Previous Section Index Home Page

Outside humanitarian operations, we must revert to the more expensive option of ascertaining what we specifically need to match our troops’ requirements in theatre. That is far more expensive in the longer term. I do not want us to say that we should retain a British badge for all procurement because that is ultimately a more costly position for us to adopt and does not take
20 Apr 2009 : Column 89
advantage of the experience of other armed forces in Europe, with whom we will have to engage in common theatres.

Cyber warfare has been mentioned once today, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) who raised it has now left the Chamber. An anoraky subject is probably the best way to describe cyber warfare, but it has interested the European Security and Defence Assembly for the simple reason that that body has representatives from Estonia, which, if colleagues do not know, faced a complete takeover of the country’s internet system approximately two years ago, not by an individual but through concerted action by several individuals throughout the world. The Government were literally brought to a standstill in one day. Every Department, including the military Department, was affected. I have been assured that the UK could never suffer such an assault. However, the event raised several issues and I have asked Defence Ministers questions about that. We have not yet defined the difference between a cyber threat, cyber warfare and cyber terrorism. I do not know whether they are the same, but there is no definition and we need one because the current response is country-specific. Again, it is an ideal matter for collaborative working in a European context, not least because we share some major telecommunications networks. We are also equally sophisticated in the technology that we have developed.

I am sorry that I will not be here for the Under-Secretary’s winding-up speech, but I should be grateful if he gave his view of OCCAR’s role and contribution—I accept that there have been difficulties with the A400M. I should like him to comment on the diversity of product that our armed forces now request and the problems that that presents any procurement programme. I should also like him to say whether he believes that some of the proposals that we have heard today, notably the redefinition of the carrier that is currently on the order books, are viable, given that they are fundamental to securing so many jobs in this country.

7.58 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): The debate has been interesting and wide ranging. It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), and it was especially a delight to listen to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I do not always agree with him, but I agreed with about 99.5 per cent. of what he said.

Mr. Soames: A big improvement.

Ann Winterton: Indeed it is.

There is no doubt that procurement drives military strategy and tactics and that it, in turn, is driven by the warfare in which we might be engaged in future, and the current counter-insurgency warfare in which the UK is heavily involved in Afghanistan. The Easter recess has been useful in giving us an opportunity to read the recommendations of the United States Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, for next year’s defence budget. They were followed by his subsequent presentation and question-and-answer session at the Maxwell air force base in Alabama.

I find it gratifying that the US Defence Secretary proposes significantly to restructure the US army’s future combat systems—FCS—programme, with the recommendation that the vehicle component of the
20 Apr 2009 : Column 90
current programme be cancelled. The FCS programme is equivalent to our future rapid effect system. I find it extraordinary that our future Army structure was completely changed on the back of FRES. Yet as we all know, FRES is now a non-starter, not least because of its exponentially rising costs. In my view—and, I think, in the view of many others—it will never happen.

The current US vehicle programme, which was developed nine years ago, was estimated to cost more than $87 billion, but did not include the recent $25 billion investment in MRAP, or mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles—I have to say that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because earlier you asked us not to use jargon. Those vehicles are being used to good effect in today’s conflicts, because the Americans have learned from their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and have changed procurement and tactics rapidly to succeed in the engagements in which their troops are fighting. I wonder whether the UK will follow suit and cancel the FRES utility programme. We were informed earlier in this debate that the programme will be at the “initial gate”—is that right?—in approximately 10 months, but I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister says about that in his winding-up speech.

I disagree with the kind of thinking so often expressed on this side of the pond by many and, in particular, by Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, who recently stated in an article that

I believe that to be one of the greatest fallacies and one that led directly to our defeat in Iraq and caused unnecessary deaths. High-intensity warfare creates a strategy of thinking big, with top-down decisions taken. That is what we are seeing played out in Afghanistan. Big sweeps at battalion and company level take place, but the ground taken cannot subsequently be held. Lowering the intensity, however, does not lower the strategy or the way of thinking and often creates the overstretch that we hear about so often.

As far as procurement is concerned, high intensity means being provided with the very latest technology and all the wizardry that goes with it, which always proves to be exceptionally expensive. For counter-insurgency, that type of procurement is, with few exceptions, unsuitable and is definitely far too expensive for purpose, leading to the cry of underfunding. For example, the House has been told that up to £860 million has been spent on honing the Harrier’s performance for service in Afghanistan, with running costs of £37,000 an hour, plus the cost of large expensive ordnance. Add to that the cost of the Harriers, which were not previously able to cope with the dust in Afghanistan, and the cost of Merlin helicopters and their upgrade, not forgetting what has been wasted on the likely-to-be-aborted A400M, and the grand total runs into megabucks. Such expenditure makes the Army look like poor cousins. The Army is doing the fighting, but it appears to be missing out on comparable levels of expenditure.

I have consistently argued that we should use aircraft such as the Super Tucano two-seater light attack aircraft, which can carry 15 tonnes of ordnance. It could assist in the creation of an Afghan air force. If such a force is not founded and developed, the international military force will be required to continue to give air cover virtually for ever. It is interesting to note that the United States has recently leased two such aircraft and they will
20 Apr 2009 : Column 91
be used in Afghanistan. It will also be interesting to see whether those aircraft will be procured directly when they have proved to be successful.

The cost of expensive helicopter usage could also be reduced by using aircraft such as an adapted Pilatus Porter, which would be better suited for many roles in Afghanistan and has a 15-tonne payload. The Pilatus Porter is a Swiss aircraft that is produced only in a civilian version, but it can be upgraded and would be ideal for ferrying in supplies and for medevac.

I hasten to add that the blueprint for successful counter-insurgency warfare—I have always said this and will probably be laughed at for repeating it—was set in Rhodesia from 1965 to 1980, where, with the international community ranged against the Rhodesians and with very little money and precious few new supplies of equipment, success was driven from the bottom up. Let us never forget that the Rhodesians conducted the best counter-insurgency campaign ever on a one-to-one ratio. That is an achievement that neither we, nor anyone else for that matter, have been capable of matching since. What the Rhodesians did, short of both money and equipment as they were, was to produce a successful strategy based on practical, functional vehicles and airpower, excellent intelligence and rapid changes in tactics to reflect changing circumstances, and they did that from bottom up. We have failed to learn those simple lessons. Insurgents cannot be beaten by technology alone. It greatly helps, but high-intensity warfare by itself cannot deliver the goods.

I have time to quote only two passages from the 1991 RAND Corporation report on the Rhodesian experience, which spells out some lessons that we need to learn. It said:

That is exactly what happened to us in Iraq. The report continued:

That is why we as a country must first decide what we want our military to do. If that includes counter-insurgency, we must specialise in it and provide the right equipment and training to win. If we are not prepared to do that, we should stop sending our service personnel to defeat and, in certain tragic cases, unnecessarily to death.

I was dismayed to learn of the recent procurement of the Husky vehicle, which involved 200 vehicles at a cost of £120 million—close to £600,000 each for what is essentially a commercial truck. The MOD has picked a conversion based on a civilian sport utility vehicle pick-up
20 Apr 2009 : Column 92
truck known as the International MXT 4x4 and then bolted bits on, just as it did with the E-Jackal. That shows that none of the lessons has been learned following the debacle of the Pinzgauer Vector. Although I understand the concept behind the Springer, I suggest that the jury is still out on whether it will prove to be another death-trap, and it is expensive, at £93,000 each and with no protection. The MOD is obviously paved with gold, but at least the Wolfhound, with a V-shaped hull, is a sensible choice and should prove a success with its built-in ability to deflect blasts.

I have absolutely no doubt that appropriate procurement is vital to succeed in any counter-insurgency situation, but sadly the lessons of the past have not yet been learned and, on our present record, the ability of our forces—they are the finest forces in the world—to succeed and to win in the future has not recently been enhanced.

8.9 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I crave the indulgence of the House for a moment, and compare the speech just delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) with that made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) earlier? Both talked about the complexity of buying the right armoured vehicles for a given situation in a particular conflict. The fact that the circumstances described in each of those speeches were so diverse rather made the point that, however much we might wish to standardise and to make things simple for ourselves, it is always easier to talk about that than to deliver it. Often, by the time we find ourselves in a situation in which we urgently require the kit for a particular operation, we have to buy off the shelf or mix and match on the ground in order to deal with a threat that has arisen against the vehicle that we are using at the time.

I am minded to point out to the hon. Member for Crosby that the European context is just one of the contexts in which we operate internationally. In fact, for the British, the American context is possibly more important than the European context. A point to emphasise in the European context is that each nation puts its forces into battle backed by its own national perspective, its own values and its own moral limits. That means that each nation has a different doctrine of operations, which leads to the Germans buying one kind of rifle while the French buy another, and we have our own rifle, which is different from the American rifle. This is because we practise military warfare in slightly different ways. Unless we are going to try to standardise the politics of all the nations, we will end up with different military doctrines and different things that we find it important, or not important, to do.

Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend is partly, but not completely, right. The Germans, for example, bought the Leopard tank instead of the Chieftain because it was said at the time that the Leopard could go backwards faster than the Chieftain could. However, they both had the same gun. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) was not far wrong in what she said. Nations can each have their own vehicles, provided that they have the same guns and ammunition as those of the nations with which they are fighting; otherwise, they will get into a terrible muddle.

20 Apr 2009 : Column 93

Mr. Jenkin: My hon. Friend reinforces the points on both sides of the argument. Yes, there are virtues in standardisation, but there will always be requirements to do things differently in different circumstances, which will lead people in different directions.

I want to turn to the Minister’s opening speech, which had an atmosphere of unreality about it. I say that with the greatest respect, and I intend no personal criticism of him; this is what Ministers do. He went straight into a discussion of current operations and the success of the urgent operational requirement programme, but avoided discussing the serious structural crisis at the heart of the Ministry of Defence, which is what this debate should be about. The numbers involved are much bigger than the amounts being spent on urgent operational requirements.

The failures of the Ministry of Defence’s procurement programme are manifold and too numerous to discuss in detail in the short time allowed for this debate. Some, including the A400M, have been brought about by industry failures. Many of us prophesied that the A400M, being mainly a political aeroplane rather than a military requirement, would get into the muddle that it is now in. That project, like the Typhoon before it, highlights the problems of pan-national, pan-European programmes, which inevitably end up involving political compromises that suit no one. Other projects, such as FRES and the Chinook mark 3, offer lessons in departmental incompetence that must be learned.

The spectre at the feast of the MOD’s trouble is always the money. Of course, defence never has enough money, but the Department’s decisions over the past 10 years have been taken in an atmosphere of unparalleled fiscal restraint, which has progressively got worse and is likely to become worse still in the current climate. We know that the procurement spending round PR08 was never really settled; it was just imposed, and the Ministry of Defence decided to live with that. We are told that PR09 has now run its course, and that there has been no resolution between the Department and the Treasury about it. There is a stand-off, but the Department somehow has to continue to function, albeit in an extraordinarily dysfunctional way.

The Department repeats the mantra that it has had record increases in funding, but, as ever, it fails to mention the real contexts. The first and most obvious is that, since 2001, the armed forces have been operating well beyond the defence planning assumptions. Whatever urgent operational requirements may have been funded, the real increases in the core defence budget have not been enough to maintain the capabilities required for the operations being undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan. I refer to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Defence Committee. He talked about the compromises between current operations and future capabilities, and about Professor Hew Strachan’s writing on today’s wars and tomorrow’s wars. Those points are expressly illustrated by the national security strategy. The Government are consciously compromising future capabilities to fund current operations, as I have said many times before in the Chamber.

Secondly, we must compare the rises in our defence expenditure with those of our allies and rivals. According to SIPRI—the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which produces the respected international tables for comparing defence expenditure—between 2001
20 Apr 2009 : Column 94
and 2007, our defence spending apparently rose by 22 per cent. in real terms. I find that hard to believe, given the figure that the Minister quoted earlier, but there are statistics and there are statistics. However, the comparable international statistics show that our 22 per cent. increase compares with India’s 32 per cent., America’s 59 per cent., Russia’s 66 per cent. and China’s 108 per cent. Britain and Europe’s response to the changed circumstances after 9/11 has been wholly inadequate.

Thirdly, it is most important to remind the House that defence spending increases in the UK were relatively modest compared with spending increases in other policy areas. Since 1997—the last year of the Major Government —core defence spending up until 2007-08 increased by £4.5 billion in real terms. In the same period, real-terms increases in health spending were £44 billion—10 times as much. In education, the increase was £35 billion. Even the spending for the police has been increased by nearly as much as defence spending, and the railways have had an even bigger increase than defence.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Is the hon. Gentleman advocating that we match some of the budget increases in developing nations that, compared with us, have very small armies in proportion to their population? Or is he talking about expanding our budget so that we can expand our armed forces accordingly? If that is the basis of his argument, what does he believe that such expansion would be for?

Mr. Jenkin: I merely point out that our defence expenditure has declined, relative to that of other nations, and that our defence expenditure as a proportion of total public expenditure has also been in decline. It has also been in decline as a proportion of gross national product, as everyone knows. I do not think that the Government made a conscious decision to do that when they were first elected, but that is what has happened, and I think that it explains why our armed forces are under such strain and why there is probably a £2 billion hole at the heart of this year’s defence budget. There will probably be a bigger hole next year, because there seem to be no proposals to fill the hole, apart from pushing programmes forward, as I shall explain.

The recession has changed the public expenditure landscape, and we can no longer expect any Government to provide dramatic increases to allow the armed forces to catch up with other public services in the short or medium term. That opportunity has passed. The public finances are in crisis, and will be for years to come. Defence, like everything else, must learn to cut its cloth and live within its means. I say that as someone who has, for some years, advocated significant increases in defence spending.

It is frustrating that, once again, we see that when it comes to designing fiscal stimuli to resuscitate the economy, defence is left out of the Prime Minister’s mindset. He has preached the need for more Government borrowing and spending to get us out of a debt crisis and has brought forward £3 billion of expenditure on capital projects—on everything from £30 million for play facilities for children to £300 million for road building. When I tabled a question to ask the Ministry of Defence to say what had been brought forward in defence to revive the economy, the response was:

Next Section Index Home Page