All business cases, including urgent operational requirements, are structured to provide equipment to meet our training needs. However, urgent theatre equipment needs sometimes rightly take priority over training requirements. We have made improvements in providing theatre-standard equipment for pre-deployment training and have always provided in-theatre training where that has not been possible.
I note the Minister’s comments, but is he not concerned that the number of cancelled military training exercises has increased since 2005 from 58 in 2005-06 to 80 in 2008-09? Is that not unacceptable, and what more can the Government do to ensure that the training is given before the equipment is used?
Current operations will always have to be the priority. Given the operations in which people are involved, the structure of our training has changed significantly over the past couple of years. Of course, pre-deployment training takes priority, which sometimes has an impact on other training opportunities. We have to do our best to ensure that we maintain all the skills that are necessary for both other contingent liabilities and the operations in which we are involved in places such as Afghanistan.
What steps are being taken to ensure that those personnel returning from theatre can pass on their up-to-date and latest experience of equipment and counter-insurgency to those who are having pre-deployment training so that the latest information and experiences are passed on to troops before they go into theatre?
My hon. Friend hits on an important point, of which all the services are fully seized: people who are about to be deployed into a changing situation, with changing threats, need to be brought up to date as completely as possible by those with the latest information. We, and the Army, Navy and Air Force, try to ensure that training is structured in such a way that all those lessons are learned to the maximum possible degree.
When short-term gaps in equipment emerge, they are met by urgent operational requirements—UORs—which can mean that although equipment is put in place, which is welcome, troops do not have the proper training on working with that equipment. Would not a better long-term plan be a strategic review to assess more accurately equipment needs against operational requirements?
In an ideal world, we would have a proper full-blown procurement system that would be able, for example, to bring vehicles such as Mastiff into use within the 19-week time that elapsed from its first planning to deployment in theatre. However, that will never be possible. When the nature of threat changes— in Afghanistan, the situation has changed from overwhelmingly a shooting war to one in which the improvised explosive device, or the roadside bomb, became our enemies’ tactic of choice—we have to get new equipment into theatre quickly. Of course, we must follow that through with capability so that training on the equipment can take place as quickly as possible thereafter. When lives are at risk, it is essential that theatre needs come first. However, we have improved the way in which we are getting theatre-level equipment into the training establishment, because it is no good deploying equipment if we are not deploying capability, which means people capable of using the equipment with which we have provided them.