DEF010704 - No. 37

Session 2003-04, 1 July 2004

Publication of Report

Publication of Report


Serious problems of under-manning and over-stretch in the armed forces have been left unaddressed by the government, which instead has focused on introducing hi-tech innovations to tackle 21st century threats, says a report published today by the Defence Committee.

MPs say that although the Ministry of Defence’s desire to introduce new technology is understandable, profound implications for armed forces personnel have been ignored in the process.

The cross party committee warns that the MoD’s defence vision for the armed forces could place increasing demands on troops, and risks sending them unprepared, into new, complex and dangerous situations.

The report, which follows a 5 month inquiry into the government’s defence White Paper, says that the MoD’s plans are ‘depressingly short’ on details of how to resolve the chronic problem of excess stretch in the armed forces.

The report is also critical of likely plans to reduce the scale of the UK’s armed forces ahead of the introduction of new capabilities such as medium-weight armoured vehicles and other hi-tech equipment, indicating that this would be premature and ‘potentially dangerous’.

Members say it is unclear whether the government’s proposals, which would lead to wide-scale changes in the armed forces, are truly forward looking or whether they have been resource driven, based more on what UK has been doing recently instead of an objective assessment of what they might do in the future.

The report also points out that the White Paper’s focus on fighting terrorism at a distance with so-called expeditionary forces has led to government departments paying insufficient attention to the military’s role defending the UK itself against terrorism. Members say they are unconvinced that in the event of repeated attacks on the UK, the MoD’s reactive approach to defence of the UK homeland would be satisfactory. 

They add that command structures and the way in which politicians interact with the military will have to be reviewed and adapted.

Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Rt Hon Bruce George MP said:

“The MoD’s whole policy for the future of our military is based on fighting terrorism at a distance. But this relies on terrorists agreeing to fight on our terms rather than theirs.

“If terrorists decide not to play by our rules, then we will need forces that can react quickly to threats abroad and at home. This will only be possible if troops are properly trained to deal with new demands that are placed on them. We are not convinced that the MoD is on top of this problem.

“Troops, both regulars and reserves, are already over-stretched. Cutting the number of boots on the ground, ships or aircraft are not sensible options, particularly when we have no guarantee that the new equipment which is meant to replace them will arrive on time or perform as planned.”

“We also need more imaginative thinking about the role that the military could and should play in the terrible event that terrorists decide to bring their campaign to the UK homeland. The Home Office, the MoD and other government departments need to work more closely together on this issue. Their discussions need to be about defending the homeland not defending their departmental turf, as appears to have been the case in the past.  

“In the future mapped out under the Defence White Paper, military action will be increasingly seen as one part of a larger political process aimed as much at coercion as combat. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but we must ensure that safeguards exist to guard against politicians meddling in the day to day running of military operations.  In turn, those in the military command chain also need to make sure that they address the implications of the actions of the few who give the military a bad name, more comprehensively than they have done to date.”

Other specific conclusions and recommendations include:

  • On the Scale of Forces:  The Committee fully supports devoting further resources to enabling assets and achieving more deployable forces. It does not however believe this should be at the expense of reasonable scale. As extensive peace support operations have demonstrated, the UK may also be called upon to provide presence and for that there is still no substitute for numbers. We believe that true effect is a product of quality and scale…. We believe that any reduction in the establishment of the Army would be premature. (See para 84)

  • On Training Troops: The Committee questions whether the current emphasis on training for war, supplemented by limited pre-deployment training which hones skills for peace support operations, are adequately equipping our service personnel for the much wider demands of modern operations. The current preoccupation with speed, agility, parallel operations, decisiveness and tempo misses a vital human aspect of effects-based thinking, which has significant ramifications for the way we train our Armed Forces. We are not convinced that these have been adequately addressed by the White Paper. (See Para 88)

  • On the Effects of Abuse by Armed Forces: The command chain needs to address the implications of the actions of the few (in human rights abuse cases) more comprehensively than it has done to date-to show that every possible step has been taken to ensure that similar incidents do not occur in future and such effects are not repeated. The fact that similar incidents have occurred before should have warned senior military and civilian leaders to the dangers. In effects-based operations, the Armed Forces need to rigorously enforce observance of acceptable standards of behaviour towards civilians, detainees and prisoners by their personnel. (See Para 102)

  • On Reserves: The MoD should avoid exploiting their commitment and dedication through overuse. The Committee awaits detailed proposals from the MoD on how it intends to improve the terms and conditions of reserve service, both for the reservists themselves and their families as well as their employers. (See Para 154)

  • On Network Enabled Capability: There is potential for confusion between the concepts of network-enabled capability and effects-based operations. Network-enabled capability may contribute to the delivery of military effect, but it is not a prerequisite for it, or indeed, necessarily the main contributor towards an effects-based operational outcome. The limits of what the military can achieve on their own in effects-based operations need to be understood not only by the Armed Forces, but across Government. (See Para 64)