Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 26 of Session 2005-06, dated 28 February 2006


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"As at September 2005, a third of our Armed Forces were not as ready as they should be. This reflects the high level of demands being put on them, and there are worrying signs of strain on equipment. I am particularly concerned about the potential impact on future operational capabilities of the fleet. The Ministry of Defence needs to make clear its plans for bringing the Armed Forces back up to required readiness."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 26th Report of this Session, which examined how the MOD assesses and reports military readiness. Readiness is the term used to describe the way in which the Ministry of Defence holds its military forces at varying levels of preparedness to respond to emerging operations. The Department holds forces at "graduated" levels of peacetime readiness to deploy, ranging from a few hours to several months.

The Committee found that determining the required readiness of military forces, and then assessing whether or not this is being achieved, is a complex matter. In order to plan for potential future military operations, the Department has developed a set of Defence Planning Assumptions. These Assumptions analyse a number of potential military operations in order to permit the Department to estimate the necessary size and shape of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces. The Department has developed a sophisticated system for defining, measuring, and reporting the readiness of the Armed Forces. It assesses the readiness of individual units (for example, an armoured brigade, a ship or squadron of aircraft) which are then aggregated to give an assessment of the readiness of larger units or even the Armed Forces as a whole.

The Committee found that almost a third of forces had Serious or Critical weaknesses to their required peacetime readiness levels - their readiness to deploy on any future operations - against a backdrop of a continued high level of commitment to current operations. "Serious" weaknesses are defined as creating a medium risk that forces would not be available for operations within agreed timescales. "Critical" weaknesses, on the other hand, attract a high risk that forces would be unavailable for operations within the required timescale.

The Armed Forces are still recovering from large scale operations in Iraq, and have been operating above the most demanding combination of scenarios envisaged by Defence Planning Assumptions during five of the past six years. Ordinarily, the Department would expect to achieve full readiness within three years of a large scale operation but, given the level of operational commitment, recuperation will take longer.

Under its Public Service Agreement, the Department is aiming to achieve 73% of forces with no Serious or Critical weaknesses to peacetime readiness by March 2008, but has not set a timetable for achieving full peacetime readiness. The Department's redirection of resources from support for the Royal Navy in order to focus on the readiness of the Army and parts of the Royal Air Force, and the rise in equipment cannibalisation, provide an indication of the increased strains on the materiel of the Armed Forces.

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