State of British Army’s heavy vehicles is ‘miserable’ says Ellwood
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Britain’s Army is “clapped out” and would struggle to get an armoured division to Nato allies in Europe in 60 days if Russia were to invade, MPs have warned. Members of the defence select committee have slammed generals and ministers for leaving the army with obsolete vehicles which are in some cases more than 50 years old.
The defence committee hearing with new procurement minister Alex Chalk, MoD permanent secretary David Williams and four senior generals became heated as it emerged that the UK’s integrated fighting force will not be ready until the next decade with no fixed completion date.
At the heart of the problems is the new Ajax light tank which has been riddled with development problems including making soldiers deaf and will not be ready until 2030.
Summing up the problems, Conservative defence committee chairman Tobias Ellwood, a former Army officer, described the army’s procurement of new heavy armoured vehicles as “miserable”.
He said: “The elephant in the room I think is money.
“If I can summarise where we are where our land warfare combat effectiveness is.
“Our main battle tank the Challenger is over two decades old, we are cutting the numbers from 227 to 148, to be upgraded but upgrades do not roll out until the 2030s.
“Armoured fighting vehicles, the Warrior, is also several decades old but will be scrapped completely with the planned Warrior upgrade cancelled but now the vehicles will be kept in service until the 2030s when eventually it will be replaced by Boxer that has no turret and no main firepower.
“Finally, our rekey vehicle remains the Scimitar introduced back in 1971, which I think may have before you were born minister.”
He went on: “It should have been replaced by Ajax three years ago but a litany of procurement problems means that it is unclear when or if this will actually happen.
“All this time, Europe’s threat picture deteriorates.
“This is a miserable state of procurement. Surely, we can do better than this.”
The row has put new pressure on Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to find more money for the defence budget at a time of massive government cuts.
Responding, Mr Chalk insisted that the UK’s forces would see improvement in the shorter term as well.
He said: “It isn’t the case that absolutely nothing happens until 2030 and then we suddenly switch the lights on and all these capabilities that have been delayed suddenly arrive.
“They arrive over time. They roll off the production line so that you have a blended fleet and then you arrive at the point in 2030 that you are all singing all dancing. That is not completely unusual.”
But another Conservative MP Mark Francois pointed out that the army and MoD had 20 years to sort out the problems and failed to do anything.
At one point he pointed out: “There is a war going on.”
And MPs agreed that there was a chance that the UK “could be dragged further” into the war especially if Russia were to invade the Baltic nations which are part of NATO.
Mr Francois said: “I’m not about to say anything that the Russians don’t know, we have a fighting division if we crashed that division out of barracks at 5:30 tomorrow morning half of it wouldn’t get out of the tank park.
“Because so many of the vehicles are obsolescent. Many of the vehicles are 25, 30, 40 even 50 years old.
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“We would be lucky to get a brigade to Estonia in 60 days.
“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 deterence with an army which is clapped out.
“This is the truth.”
Lieutenant General Sharon Nesmith, deputy chief of general staff, reponded: “We credibly contribute to deterrence today. Our USP as the British army is very much about highly qualified and competent combat arms, some professional skilled trades personnel and enablers and conceptual leadership.”
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