Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 6 of Session 2002-03, dated 12 March 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today that in the event of military action in the Gulf the MoD must do everything it can to ensure that British forces are properly equipped for the extreme conditions.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 6th Report of this Session, which examines the MoD's handling of Exercise Saif Sareea II which took place in Oman in 2001.

The Department's planning of the Exercise was deficient. In particular, because of poor information and inadequate analysis, it did not modify the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank to operate in desert conditions. The location, time, and scope of the Exercise were subject to change, which contributed to cost escalation and acted against the achievement of value for money. Decisions were not based on the full cost of resources to be consumed by the Exercise. The Department needs to plan major exercises as projects in their own right.

The lessons of the Exercise should be properly applied. The Department has made improvements to its ability to capture lessons from exercises and operations, but also needs to apply the lessons identified. The Exercise illustrated the importance of carrying out critical modifications to ensure that equipment can operate in desert conditions, and in ensuring that capability gaps, for example, tactical communications, are closed. It also revealed shortcomings in the Department's ability to sustain forces deployed at strategic distance. The Department should review whether it has sufficient equipment to sustain the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces in all the environments in which it anticipates operating - temperate, arctic, jungle, and desert. The Department also needs to ensure that any new equipment is specified to work in the environments in which it will be needed.

Key elements of the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces concept were tested in the Exercise but more needs to be done to prove the concept in the round.  For example, the Exercise was only a limited test of strategic lift because only half an armoured brigade and no war stocks were taken. Future exercises need to demonstrate that there would be sufficient strategic lift capacity available. In time-critical situations, the Department will continue to be reliant upon the ready availability of chartered civilian sea and air assets in actual operations. The Department should explore the possibility of making agreements with civilian suppliers to provide assets when required during times of crisis.

Mr Leigh said today:

"This exercise demonstrated the need for forces operating in desert conditions to be properly equipped, for example with appropriate boots, and I was grateful for the Department's assurance that it did not lack stocks of desert boots.  More widely, as the situation develops in the Gulf, I expect no stone to be left unturned in ensuring that our forces have proper equipment for the environment they face."

This Report can be accessed via the internet from around 11.30 am on the day of publication.