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Ukraine: Weapons

Volume 822: debated on Thursday 16 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the usage rates by Ukrainian forces of weapons supplied by the United Kingdom aligns with their predictions; and whether they intend to reassess (1) their supply of weapons to that country, and (2) the stockholding required by the UK’s armed forces.

My Lords, we liaise on a daily basis with Ukraine and continue to provide the defensive equipment it needs. The Defence Secretary participated in the Ukraine donor contact group yesterday and met Ukrainian government representatives. I cannot comment on Ukrainian usage rates for the equipment provided. The MoD continually reviews its stocks of weapons and ammunition to ensure that it can meet its commitment to Ukraine while ensuring that UK Armed Forces stocks are maintained.

My Lords, the usage rates by Ukraine are high because in peer-on-peer warfare that is exactly what happens. We have experience of that ourselves, historically. I am delighted that we are providing weapons to Ukraine, and we must keep doing this; indeed, we probably need to provide more. It is in everyone’s interests that that happens. My experience tells me that our stockholdings will be insufficient. There is no doubt about it. They always have been because that is the way you play games with money in the MoD. My question is one I asked on 25 May: have we let contracts with British defence firms, so that we are able to replenish our stockholdings and supply the Ukrainians at the rate that is required? When I asked this question, those contracts had not been let, and we were supplying weapons to Ukraine that had been bought by other countries in Europe because we were not producing any. We must start producing some of these weapons now, almost on a 24/7 basis.

We keep weapon stockpile levels and requirements under constant review, and that informs our response to Ukraine. I reassure the noble Lord that we are fully engaged with industry, allies and partners. We want to ensure that all equipment granted in kind to the Ukrainian armed forces is replaced as expeditiously as possible.

My Lords, the reality is that we dispose of far more complex weapons because they have reached the end of their shelf life than we ever fire in anger. Of course, there are only so many hours you can have a Sidewinder under a jet flying in the air, but we are much more risk averse in this area than almost any of our NATO allies. The challenge seems to be that we simply do not have the data. As we reassess our own stockpiles, can I simply ask my noble friend if she will seek to get that data from our NATO allies, rather than simply spending millions more pounds on weapons when we can get better use out of our own?

I refer my noble friend to recent activity engaged in by the Secretary of State for Defence, not least his presence yesterday, to which I referred in response to the noble Lord, Lord West. As my noble friend will be aware, a joint statement was issued yesterday by the United States Department of Defense, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defence and our own UK Ministry of Defence, which is all about how we can help Ukraine to defend its citizens. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany have now committed to provide MLRS, with guided MLRS or—here is another mnemonic—GMLRS, which I think is the guidance system that guides the first thing. Ukraine has specifically requested this capability. Importantly, it will allow the Ukrainian armed forces to engage the invading force with accurate fire at ranges of approximately 70 kilometres.

My Lords, has the Minister been made aware of the Prime Minister’s statement on 6 June, which stated:

“He set out the significant new support the Government is providing, including long-range multiple launch rocket systems to strike Russian artillery positions which are being used to bombard Ukrainian towns”?

Has this promise been fulfilled?

I partially covered my noble friend’s question in my earlier response, because it is these multiple launch rocket systems that we have committed to provide. The training has already begun for these. The objective is that, along with the contribution of the United States and Germany, we will deploy these systems urgently and without delay.

Can I press the Minister on the original Question? It is not a matter of what allies have, or what our stockpiles are and the degree to which they have been run down. What the House needs to be reassured of is whether the MoD is conducting a review of the contractual linkages between the MoD and the defence supply base to ensure that we have the agility to sustain our war-fighting resilience—because it is our war-fighting resilience that has historically been most run down and is potentially the most vulnerable part of our overall national military capability.

I say to the noble and gallant Lord that, as previously indicated, the department is fully engaged with industry, because we want to ensure that all equipment granted in kind to the Ukrainian armed forces is replaced as expeditiously as possible, but also that, by continually managing and reviewing our own UK stock of weapons and munitions, we ensure that while we meet that commitment to Ukraine, our UK Armed Forces’ stocks are sufficiently maintained.

My Lords, I have but modest experience, having worked in the logistics department of the Armed Forces, but I get closer to my noble friend Lord West’s experience that stockpiles were always brought down to the minimum credible level rather than having any serious surpluses. Those stockpiles are being used up, but surely they need to be brought to the pre-war levels. Let us be realistic: the world will be a less safe place at the end of this war. We will almost certainly have an expanded NATO with a Russian border, so, if anything, surely the stockpiles should be expanded. The Government should have made these decisions by now, so will the stockpiles be brought to pre-war levels, and will they indeed be expanded in light of the new threat?

I am unable to provide anything more specific to the noble Lord in addition to what I have previously said. I cannot offer a detailed inventory of what is currently in storage in terms of stockpiles for the UK, or a complete inventory of what is being released to Ukraine. What I can reassure the House about is that the department is constantly engaged in reviewing these stock levels, having regard to both our commitment to support Ukraine and our obligation to make sure we can defend the United Kingdom. As the noble and gallant Lord asked earlier, we are fully engaged with industry.

My Lords, as well as supplying weapons, Royal Air Force Typhoons are flying regular NATO missions over countries adjacent to Ukraine, in addition to their UK QRA and defence of the Falklands tasks. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to increase the size or number of Typhoon squadrons in order to cope with this exceedingly additional commitment?

I can confirm to the noble and gallant Lord that we have been deploying elements of all three armed services. That includes bulking up the presence in Cyprus, because we have four additional Typhoons there. We are doing that within our existing commitments, and we are satisfied that that is a balance we can reconcile not just in terms of crews needing to be rested, recuperated and returned to duty but in terms of meeting both our obligations to our NATO allies on the wider safety of Europe and our own internal obligations.

My Lords, just to be clear, referring back to my noble friend Lord West’s Question, the Minister has said three times that the MoD is “fully engaged”. I am absolutely sure that the MoD is fully engaged; it always is. But the question is: have any contracts been let?

I do not have such specific information before me to give to the noble Lord, but I will make inquiries. If there is any illumination I can provide to him, I will happily do that.

My Lords, I welcome the contribution that the British Government, along with the Americans, have made to support Ukraine in terms of the provision of arms. I understand that the leaders of Italy, France and Germany are currently in Ukraine. Could the Government please ensure that they continue to press those Governments to provide a reasonable level of arms rapidly to the Ukrainians? They appear to be failing to do so, and if Ukraine is weaker, countries such as Poland and Lithuania will rightly fear for their positions.

The UK takes the view that it is all hands to the pump. We welcome the contribution from any nations which think they can assist Ukraine. The visit to Kyiv by the countries to which the noble Lord referred is welcome, and it is a positive step. Whatever they are able to do to augment the support being given to Ukraine to defend itself is to be welcomed.