Sunak ready to end decades of serial underinvestment in the army

James Heappey discusses defence budget

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A defence minister has suggested that Rishi Sunak is ready to plough massive investment into the British army amid concerns that the war in Ukraine has “exposed serious shortfalls in its warfighting capability.” Armed forces minister James Heappey gave a strong hint about future investment to be announced in the Budget in exchanges with the Defence select Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood.

The exchanges came after weeks of MPs on the Defence select Committee blasting the government over the “clapped out” state of the British army particularly its heavy armour vehicles.

Earlier this month defence procurement minister Alex Chalk and a group of senior generals had to admit to MPs that the army is still using 50-year-old vehicles and that upgrades such as the problem riddled Ajax will not be available until the next decade.

In the Commons, Mr Ellwood asked: “Can I invite the minister to respond to comments from the Unites States, our closest security ally, which tally with the defence committee’s own findings that this conflict in Ukraine has exposed serious shortfalls in the warfighting capability of the British army?”

“This is not about the professionalism of individual units or formations but about the overall combat strength and the equipment they use as well as the ability to meet increasing demands caused by the deteriorating threat picture.”

Mr Heappey responded: “Everybody is clear, the Secretary of State (Ben Wallace) has said many times as have I, that serial underinvestment in the army over decades has led to the point where the army is in urgent need of recapitalisation.”

Significantly, he added: “The Chancellor and the Prime Minister get that and there is a Budget coming.”

The remarks came after Mr Ellwood furiously attacked the MoD this morning over the state of British armed forces.

The senior Conservative MP said he was “very concerned” about the state of the UK’s armed forces.

He told Sky News: “The army is in a dire state. Our army is simply too small, we have cut down by 10,000 troops.

“I do hope the defence review will look at these issues and reverse some of the swathing cuts that were made a couple of years ago.”

He went on: “It is up to the Treasury and Number 10 to recognise the world is changing – we are now at war in Europe, we need to move to a war footing.

“We have become complacent. We need to invest to make sure we retain people, the good people that are there, but there are not enough of them and the equipment is now obsolete.”

The Commons defence committee has set up a sub committee under the chairmanship of former Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois to hold an inquiry into the parlous state of British defence procurement.

It comes amid growing concerns over the failure to replace heavy armour with the flagship Ajax programme in trouble and causing soldiers to lose their hearing.

However, there have been wider concerns over the purchase of new warships and the F35 fighter jets among over projects.

Earlier this month, Mr Francois described the army heavy armour as “claped out” and questioned whether it would be possible for the UK to send forces to Estonia if there was a Russian invasion.

He told senior generals and procurement minister Alex Chalk: “How can you possibly say we have a credible deterrent effect when our warfighting division is so old and so full of obsolete vehicles that you have had 20 years to replace and you have replaced none of it that we can credibly contribute to deterrence with an army which is clapped out.”


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