UK Government

Ministry Of Defence (National):MoD takes difficult decisions to prioritise the frontline

Press Release   •   Dec 16, 2009 11:36 GMT

The MoD has today announced plans to re-prioritise spending to help achieve success in Afghanistan – the top military priority – and balance the books

Like all Government departments, the MoD is facing challenging financial pressures. At the same time, our forces on operations remain the top priority and the department is committed to ensuring that our personnel in Afghanistan have the resources they need both now and in the future.

The MoD has therefore today announced a £900M package of enhancements for operations in Afghanistan. This package will be delivered from the core defence budget and the enhancements will improve troops’ safety and operational capability over the next three years. The enhancements include:

- 22 new Chinook helicopters, with the first 10 arriving during 2012/13, as set out in with the Future Rotary Wing Strategy;

- an additional C-17 aircraft to strengthen the air bridge;

- further improvements to our Counter IED capabilities, particularly intelligence and analytical capability to target the networks;

- increased funding for our intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, doubling REAPER capability;

- an improved Dismounted Close Combat equipment package – making equipment such as state of the art body armour and night vision goggles available to 50 per cent more troops so they can train with them before deploying to Afghanistan;

- more Bowman tactical radios and patrol satellite systems to improve communications between troops and their commanders and an additional £80M for communications facilities for our Special Forces.

- improvements to Defensive Aids Suites and support arrangements for the Hercules C130J fleet to maximise their use.

In addition to this package from the MoD, the Treasury will also provide a further £280M from the Reserve to pay for additional vehicles, weapons, communications and surveillance assets. This Treasury funding will deliver:

- more new vehicles such as  a 31 per cent increase in Husky tactical support vehicles to be deployed to Afghanistan;

- a 40 per cent increase in Jackal vehicles deployed to Afghanistan;

- additional equipment to combat the IED threat including over 400 hand held detectors, robots, and other kit.

In order to deliver these vital resources for Afghanistan, the MoD has had to take difficult decisions about areas of defence that are not linked directly to operations.

There will be an independent review which will look at whether any further reductions can be made to the number of civilians working in defence.  The number of service personnel, who are not critical to current operations will be reduced by 2,500. This will be achieved by slowing recruitment and preventing extensions to service rather than through redundancies. In addition, training for some Army units, who do not contribute to current operations, will be reduced.

The number of Harriers will be reduced and the remainder of the aircraft will be moved to RAF Wittering, resulting in the closure of RAF Cottesmore.  In addition, the Nimrod MR2 will be taken out of service in March 2010, 12 months earlier than planned and the introduction of the Nimrod MRA4 will be delayed until 2012.

One survey ship and one minehunter will be withdrawn from service early. The Navy’s older Lynx and Merlin Mk1 helicopters will be retired sooner than planned prior to the transition to the more capable Wildcat and Merlin Mk2 as part of the new helicopter strategy.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said:

“These decisions have not been taken lightly but these are tough times for everyone in defence and we must ensure we prioritise spending on operations to achieve success in Afghanistan. As we implement these changes, we will ensure that safety requirements are maintained and those people affected are supported.”

Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:

“We have all known for some time that living within our means while making improvements to the most critical areas of capability would involve difficult and unwelcome choices. It is also important to take a step or two back and to look at the wider picture; to reflect that we are still spending just over £35bn per year on Defence - (not including additional operational costs, UORs, etc) - which is some 2.5 per cent of our GDP.  This is a significant investment, reflecting the seriousness of our task and the continuing importance of the Armed Forces to the security of our nation and its people.”

Notes To Editors:

1. For more information, please contact Beth Cowley, MoD Press Office, on 0207 218 3255.
2. A copy of the Secretary of State’s oral statement to Parliament is included below.

MINISTERIAL STATEMENT – FORWARD DEFENCE PROGRAMME
By Secretary of State for Defence
Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP

I am announcing today changes to the defence programme which will enhance the support to our personnel on operations in Afghanistan, worth £900M over the next three years, and reductions elsewhere to make these enhancements affordable and to match our expenditure against available resources. In doing so I have made every effort to ensure that we balance the priority of supporting our forces in Afghanistan with our commitment to maintaining the capabilities necessary for the future, and that we do not take decisions on major changes that should properly be made in next year’s defence review.

As I have repeatedly said to the House, support to our operations in Afghanistan is our main effort.  I saw for myself last week the contribution being made by our forces across Afghanistan; taking on the Taleban, and beginning to train and partner with the Afghan National Army. I pay tribute to their bravery, professionalism and their dedication.

The Defence budget has had the longest period of sustained real growth since the 1980s – it is now £35.4Bn, over 10% more in real terms than in 1997.  As the Chancellor confirmed at the Pre-Budget Report last week, not a single penny is being cut from the Defence budget in 2010/11. But despite this significant investment, acute cost pressures remain. There are a number of reasons for this, including rising fuel and utility costs, increases in pay and pensions, and above all cost growth in the equipment programme.  A number of major projects, while providing superb military capability, have cost more than twice their initial estimate in real terms.

All this presents us with a significant challenge – both in this financial year and as we look forward.  The NAO’s Major Projects Report, published today, describes the result of these pressures.  Going forward I am determined that Defence takes action to deal with these pressures and to address the challenges head on.  That is why we commissioned the hard hitting Bernard Gray report, are taking steps now to implement his report, and are reforming defence acquisition to better match our priorities to our spending.  Getting this right is critical.  Tough choices are required.  We will be publishing the strategy in the New Year that will provide a planning and management framework to produce an affordable Equipment Plan.

I am determined to ensure that those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf remain properly supported and resourced. Our priorities in Afghanistan are to provide the best levels of personal equipment and protection to meet the fast changing threat and to increase investment in key capabilities including helicopter capability and our strategic airbridge.

Mr Speaker, I am, therefore, pleased to announce a number of capability enhancements to support our mission in Afghanistan. These are in addition to the operational costs paid for by the Reserve, which continues to increase year on year, and has risen from £738m in 2006-07 when we deployed to Helmand to over £3.7Bn this year.  By the end of 2009-10 the Reserve will have contributed over £14Bn to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some £5.2Bn on Urgent Operational Requirements.

But my decision to fund these enhancements from the core defence programme reflects our determination to ensure that Defence is supporting the current campaign and our belief that we expect such capabilities to feature in a range of future conflicts our forces may face. The enhancements total some £900M over 3 years. They include:

- An improved Dismounted Close Combat equipment package – making equipment such as state of the art body armour and night vision goggles available to 50% more troops so they can train with them before deploying to Afghanistan. 
- More Bowman tactical radios and patrol satellite systems to improve communications between troops and their commanders.
- An additional £80M for communications facilities for our Special Forces.
- Increased funding for our intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, doubling REAPER capability; and as the Prime Minister announced yesterday, further improvements to our Counter IED capabilities, particularly intelligence and analytical capability to target the networks. 
- An additional C-17 aircraft to strengthen the air bridge. 
- Improvements to Defensive Aids Suites and support arrangements for the Hercules C130J fleet to maximise their use.
- There will be 22 new Chinook helicopters, with the first 10 arriving during 2012/13, as set out in with the Future Rotary Wing Strategy which I also announced today.

In addition to this package, the Treasury has signed off the latest funding from the Reserve – over £280M - to support a range of additional equipment for Afghanistan, including:

- More new vehicles such as  a 31% increase in Husky tactical support vehicles to be deployed to Afghanistan;
- a 40% increase in Jackal fire support vehicles deployed for Afghanistan;
- and, additional equipment to combat the IED threat including over 400 hand held detectors, robots, and other kit.

This one-off package is on top of the resources already allocated for Urgent Operational Requirements for this financial year and the Protected Mobility Package that has previously been announced.

Mr Speaker, the pressure on the public finances means that we need to prioritise carefully within our own resources. We need to make reductions in lower priority areas to fund these enhancements and to better match the Defence programme to available resources.

This has meant stopping or slowing spending in other areas and pushing down hard on headquarters costs and overheads. Inevitably, these measures will have an impact on some capabilities but we judge that these are manageable.

We will continue to reduce the number of civilians working in the Ministry of Defence.  We recognise the importance of the civilian workforce and the critical outputs they deliver. That is why at the Pre-Budget report we announced an independent study into the shape and size of the civilian workforce including the distribution of tasks between civilian and military personnel.  This study will be undertaken by Gerry Grimstone and will inform the Defence Review. Without prejudicing its outcome, we would expect that we will be able to continue reducing the overall size of the civilian workforce, above the 45,000 reduction already made since 1997. This is not just about doing more with less. We will also need to make hard decisions about what we can stop doing, and how we can bear down on other costs.

The other key adjustments we are making to the current programme are:

- In line with our current aspirations to reduce to two fast jet types – the Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter – we will:

- Pursue without delay the Typhoon Future Capability Programme Phase 2. This is fundamental to development of its multi-role capability and integration with the latest weapons;
- Reduce now the size of our Harrier fast jet force by one squadron, close RAF Cottesmore and consolidate the Harrier force at RAF Wittering.   This will maintain our joint carrier-based combat air capability.  We plan to reduce our Tornado and Harrier force by a further 1 or 2 squadrons: decisions on the make up of our future force will be taken in the Defence Review.

- We intend to withdraw the Nimrod MR2 force 12 months early and slow the introduction of the MRA4 force. This will have an impact on our use of RAF Kinloss, but there is no change to our assumptions on the future basing of the MRA4 force at this stage. The decision to withdraw MR2 has been taken for financial reasons and is unconnected to the report by Mr Haddon Cave into the circumstances that led to the tragic loss of Nimrod XV230 in Afghanistan: Mr Haddon Cave was very clear in his report that the aircraft remains safe to fly. I will be making a further statement to the House in respect of Mr Haddon-Cave’s report tomorrow.

- We intend temporarily to reduce some aspects of Army training which are not required for current operations.

- We will also take one survey ship and one minehunter out of service early; cancel the current competition for unprotected utility vehicles and defer the programme for two years; and bring forward the planned reduction of some of the older maritime Lynx and Merlin Mk1 aircraft prior to the transition to the more capable Wildcat and Merlin Mk2.

- We will spend less next year than previously planned on the wider Defence Estate but will continue to prioritise investment in both Service Family Accommodation and Single Living Accommodation.

The measures I have set out will also have implications for Service personnel numbers. The details have not yet been finalised, but the emphasis will be on prioritising our manpower for operations in Afghanistan. Changes will be targeted so as to avoid affecting personnel involved in current operations. Reductions in Service personnel numbers will mainly be managed by slowing recruitment and releasing some personnel, in accordance with their contracts.

I appreciate that these changes will be difficult for many Service and civilian personnel, their families and the communities in which they are based.  I am fully aware of the consequences and will support those affected.

In making these choices, I have had to consider that the Government and the opposition parties are committed to carrying out a Defence Review after the next election. The Green Paper, to be published early in the New Year, will explain the Government’s vision of what that Review should encompass.

The measures reflect our stated priority of support for the Afghanistan campaign, and continued investment in new capabilities with enduring military benefit.

Mr Speaker, this is a difficult balance to strike, but I am confident that we have got that balance right, and that this will be demonstrated where it matters most – on the frontline, where our brave Servicemen and women, supported by MOD civilians, are fighting for the future of Afghanistan and the security of our country.

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