Ageing equipment puts Army at risk, MPs warn

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The Army is likely to find itself "outgunned" in any conflict with Russian forces, MPs have warned.

In a damning report, the Commons Defence Committee described efforts to modernise the Army's fleet of Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV) as "woeful".

The ageing and depleted fleet puts the Army at "serious risk" of being outmatched by adversaries, it states.

The Ministry of Defence has promised "an upgraded, digitised and networked armoured force to meet future threats".

In the report - entitled Obsolescent and Outgunned - the committee highlighted the "bureaucratic procrastination" and "general ineptitude" which had "bedevilled" attempts to re-equip the Army over the past two decades.

In 1990, the UK had around 1,200 main battle tanks in its inventory - today it has 227, the report states. It said armoured vehicle capability had reached "a point of batch obsolescence, falling behind that of our allies and potential adversaries".

"The Army's Armoured Fighting Vehicle programme has been plagued with uncertainties," said Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood.

"The decision to invest in fighting vehicles is too often hampered by uncertainties over what the Army wants them for and pitted against the desire to fund other defence priorities," the Conservative MP added, a reference to the government's clear intention to move from industrial age to information-era technology.

The report comes ahead of publication of the government's Integrated Review of foreign, defence, security and development policy, which will be set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday.

Described as the most important defence review since the end of the Cold War, it is expected to focus on developing new technology such as robots, autonomous systems and meeting new threats in the domains of space and cyber.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "We thank the Defence Committee for their report and acknowledge their recommendations as we look to improve the management of our large and complex equipment programmes.

"Aided by the substantial £24bn settlement for defence, the Integrated Review will provide resources to deliver an upgraded, digitised and networked armoured force to meet future threats."

A defence review, due to be published shortly, will promise to transform and modernise Britain's armed forces to fight the wars of the future.

But this report raises serious questions as to whether the Ministry of Defence can actually deliver.

MPs describe the MoD and specifically the British army's efforts to modernise its ageing fleet of armoured vehicles as "a woeful story of bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude".

Hundreds of millions of pounds have been "squandered" with little to show for it.

It's left the Army with tanks and armoured vehicles outmatched and outgunned by a peer adversary like Russia.

To modernise its tanks, the Army will have to significantly cut numbers. Some programmes, like the upgrade to hundreds of Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles, are likely to be scrapped altogether.

The MoD says the defence review will "deliver an upgraded, digitised and networked armoured force to meet future threats".

MPs are not so sure. They say the Army's armoured capabilities are "at risk of being denuded on the basis of promises of technically advanced 'jam tomorrow'".

Ahead of Tuesday's review, the Committee urged government not to ignore the "decaying" AFV fleet.

The report stated the Army is four years away from being able to field a "warfighting division", which, even under the Ministry Of Defence's (MOD) own current plans, would still be "hopelessly under-equipped".

It said soldiers called on to fight a 'peer adversary' - namely Russia - in the next few years "would, disgracefully, be forced to go into battle in a combination of obsolescent or even obsolete armoured vehicles, most of them at least 30 years old or more".

MPs added the MOD needs to urgently address its shortfalls in artillery, air defence and anti-drone capabilities, citing the Russian investment in modern missile and rocket artillery systems which defined their rapid victory in Ukraine in 2014.

"A mixture of bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude has led to a severe and sustained erosion of our military capabilities," said Mr Ellwood.

"This will have a profound and potentially devastating impact on our ability to respond to threats from adversaries."

"In a conflict, the capable men and women working for the armed forces may find themselves outmatched, reliant on a fleet of outdated and outmoded fighting vehicles.

"The government should make no mistake, these failures may cost lives."

Commenting on the report, Labour said "Conservative defence cuts and indecision" had weakened the Army.

"Our Army would currently be forced to go into battle with out-of-date armoured vehicles that could be heavily outgunned. Nothing characterises Boris Johnson's 'era of retreat' over the last decade more starkly than this," said shadow defence secretary John Healey.

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