The Strategic Defence Review should take account of the current low readiness levels of the Armed Forces and the need for their effective recuperation, says the Defence Select Committee in its Report, published today, entitled “Readiness and recuperation of the Armed Forces: looking towards the Strategic Defence Review”.
The Defence Committee had extended its inquiry into readiness and recuperation beyond last Summer to take account of the preparation of the Green Paper and to offer recommendations on the focus of the Strategic Defence Review in the next Parliament.
During the inquiry, the Committee took evidence on the impact of current operations on UK Armed Forces which are under heavy pressure. They have been involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years while maintaining key standing tasks such as the strategic nuclear deterrent and UK air defence. They have been deployed above the Defence Planning Assumptions, the level at which they are structured and funded, for seven years. Nevertheless, the Committee considers it unsatisfactory that readiness levels have been allowed to fall to the extent that they have and recommends that the Strategic Defence Review reviews the utility and content of the Defence Planning Assumptions and readiness targets.
The Chairman of the Committee, James Arbuthnot, says, “Readiness levels are low but this does not mean that the Armed Forces are not prepared for the current operation in Afghanistan nor that they could not react in an emergency. There are encouraging signs that readiness has improved since the withdrawal from Iraq. But the Strategic Defence Review will need to take account of the current low readiness levels of the Armed Forces and the urgent need for recuperation.”
The Report notes several shortfalls in terms of the Forces’ readiness to perform important tasks that are not directly connected with the Afghanistan operation. For example, the Armed Forces have cancelled major joint exercises over a number of years, and Harrier pilots have little or no training in taking off from aircraft carriers at night. The Report states that the MoD should make training for those capabilities which have not been exercised in recent or current operations a priority for recuperation.
At the same time, there have been pressures on personnel, with significant numbers of the Army and the Marines and those in key “pinch point trades”, such as medical personnel, being deployed more frequently than the MoD would wish—breaking harmony guidelines. The Committee states that if readiness is to be improved, then the Army must return to being deployed within harmony guidelines as soon as practicable.
The Committee warns that the Strategic Defence Review should not be solely a defence concern. It needs to be set in the context of a UK Strategy encompassing the National Security Strategy and UK foreign policy and involve other Government Departments as appropriate.
The Review should also codify the use of the Comprehensive Approach and consider the need for an augmented capability to promote stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction.
The Report warns that the next Government will have to accept the financial realities of the day but be aware of the risk that an early stringency budget might prejudge the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review. The Chairman of the Committee, James Arbuthnot, says, “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the core businesses of Government is the defence of the country and of national interests, and that is every bit as true during difficult financial times as during more settled ones.”
Read Full Report in PDF format