Armed forces 'face vehicle shortages until 2025'

Armoured vehicle
Image caption Many of the armoured vehicles bought since 1998 have been for specific operations, the report says

British forces will face "significant shortages" of armoured vehicles until 2025 unless extra investment is found, a public spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) also said hundreds of millions of pounds had been spent on equipment that was never delivered.

It blamed "over-ambitious requirements and unstable financial planning".

Defence equipment minister Peter Luff said the government was committed to ensuring troops were properly equipped.

In the report, the NAO said that without significant additional investment by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Army would not have all the armoured vehicles it has identified as "top priorities" for 14 years at the earliest.

It said the procurement process had managed to deliver only a "fraction" of the vehicles it set out to buy.

In the 13 years since the Labour government's 1998 strategic defence review, the MoD had spent £718m on armoured vehicle programmes which have since been scrapped or have yet to deliver, the NAO said.

In the same period the MoD procured fewer than 200 vehicles, at a cost of £407m, through its standard acquisition programme, it said.

Instead, it had to rely on emergency purchases through a system of "urgent operational requirements" (UORs) to get the vehicles needed to troops on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the NAO said that while the UOR system had worked well - delivering an additional £2.8bn worth of vehicles since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 - it was not a "sustainable substitute" for the standard acquisition process.

Much of the equipment bought through UORs was tailored for specific operations and was unsuitable for wider use, the report said.

Often it was delivered without training or back-up support, causing further problems in the long-term, it added.

The NAO said the MoD needed to show "greater pragmatism" when it came to ordering equipment through the standard acquisition process.

"Armoured vehicle projects have suffered from unstable budgets and continual changes to financial plans," the report said.

"The cycle of unrealistic planning followed by cost overruns has led to a need to find additional short-term savings on a regular basis."

'Big gaps'

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "Too many major projects have been cancelled, suspended or delayed.

"A long-term solution is likely to need significant further investment, realistic plans and stable budgets sustained over time."

Ross Campbell, Value For Money Director at the NAO, said: "When we come out of Afghanistan and look at the next 10 or 15 years ...we have got some pretty big gaps appearing in the ranks.

"A lot of the equipment we have already is getting pretty old now, introduced in the 1960s and 1970s in some cases.

"Without our projects maturing as planned it is going to be a long lead time before we can bring in modern, effective, flexible, armoured fighting vehicles."

Defence equipment minister Peter Luff said the report highlighted "serious flaws" in the process left by the previous Labour government.

"We are absolutely committed to a funded and realistic defence equipment programme to ensure our Armed Forces are properly equipped and taxpayers get value for money," he said.

"Given the disastrous state of the department's finances we inherited, this change will take time."

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