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Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme

Volume 829: debated on Wednesday 3 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the impact of the cancellation of the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme in their Defence in a Competitive Age command paper, published on 22 March 2021.

My Lords, the integrated review has set the British Army on a course of exciting transformation. Cancelling the Warrior capability sustainment programme, rather than spending taxpayers’ money on upgrading an ageing legacy capability, has enabled reinvestment of resources to support Army modernisation under Future Soldier. The Army’s current capabilities, which include Warrior, will remain effective until new concepts and capabilities are introduced into service throughout the remainder of the decade.

I have a very simple question for the Minister. Can she assure us that, with the cancellation of Warrior, there is no capability gap with respect to the Army’s mechanised infantry vehicle capability? The Minister will know that the Warrior upgrade programme has been cancelled, we are awaiting when all the 623 Boxer vehicles are to be delivered and, with the problems there have been with the Ajax programme, we are unclear when that is due to be delivered. Can the Minister explain why we should not be worried about capability with respect to this particular Army infantry vehicle capability?

I can confirm that the Army has been allocated £200 million to keep Warrior going and to assist with funding of Challenger 2. This is all about bridging the important period of transition from the old configuration to the new. On Boxer, my noble friend—or my noble opponent—will be aware that initial operating capability is expected to be achieved in 2025, with full operating capability in 2032. Ajax is now in a very positive place, having been through, I fully admit, its own travails. It is in a good position and there is no operating capability gap.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving member of the Army and as the Government’s defence exports advocate. There have been challenges in the procurement of the Army’s armoured vehicles—there is no doubt about that—but is not one of the underlying issues that successive Governments have allowed the atrophication of the land industrial base, which is something we have not done, for example, in the maritime industrial base? We have simply lost the skills over time by not having a constant throughput of new vehicles. How will the Government address this issue?

I have admitted at this Dispatch Box, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has indicated similarly, that over successive Governments there has been a hollowing out of the land capability, but my noble friend will accept that there is now an exciting programme for development. I have referred to Boxer and Ajax, and we have the exciting prospect of the armoured future brigades. I point out to my noble friend that the equipment plan for the Army is £41 billion over 10 years, so I hope my noble friend is reassured that very serious planning is in place to augment the land capability.

My Lords, regretfully, it seems to me the Minister has not answered the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Warrior was first commissioned in 1984 and, as we have heard, its upgrade has been cancelled. In spite of optimistic noises, there is as yet no service date for Ajax, and it is exactly the same position in relation to Boxer. If British Army infantry had to be deployed now, which armoured fighting vehicle would they have in support?

I do not share the noble Lord’s pessimistic assessment. As I have pointed out, there is in place an exciting programme of land vehicles. For Boxer, initial operating capability will be achieved in 2025. We anticipate that very good progress is being made on Ajax, and they will come into play later on in this decade. I point out to the noble Lord that, as he is aware, we have Warrior functioning; it is part of the transition. We have Challenger 2, and we are upgrading to Challenger 3. We have got a perfectly well-equipped Army. We observe our obligations to NATO and we observe our obligations to keep this country safe.

My Lords, between the cancelled Warrior capability sustainment programme and the extraordinarily delayed Ajax programme—it may well be in a good place now, but it is not expected to have what is called “full operating capability” until 2029, which is a full decade longer than was planned—the MoD has spent over £3 billion in failing to introduce or upgrade two armoured vehicles. What lessons have been learnt from this, and what changes to procurement have been made? Is there nowhere else in the world a vehicle already in production that we could buy with some of the £41 billion set down for capability of this nature in the future?

In relation to Ajax, I confirm for the noble Lord that the initial operating capability requires 50 operational deployable vehicles to be delivered and to be achieved by December 2025, and that will be a significant augmentation of the capability. The full operating capability requires 422 of the 589 operational deployable vehicles to be delivered; that is to be achieved between October 2028 and September 2029. As I indicated to my noble friend Lord Lancaster, there is a very exciting period of development for land capability; I think we should celebrate that.

On the final point of the noble Lord’s question, I have acknowledged that I think there is the opportunity for the MoD, in procurement, to look at different models of getting things when they need them. I think this is recognised within the MoD, and I think the phrase used has been that we have pursued the exquisite, involving cost and time, perhaps at the expense of actually getting what we need, when we wanted it.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the £41 billion that is going to be available for some of this upgrading. Can she say when the upgraded Challenger 3 is likely to become operational?

I do not have specific information about that. As my noble friend is aware, Challenger 2 is operating, and the Challenger 3 upgrade is in place. I shall make inquiries; if I can find something more specific, I undertake to write to my noble friend.

My Lord, the Minister has said the MoD has a new model of getting things when we need them. Have we had Ajax when we needed it? Does the forward set of dates not suggest we are not really getting things when we need them?

I actually said that the department is aware of the need to look at the opportunity of a different approach to procurement, and there may be situations where there is something on the shelf that would work, would be adequate and can be obtained at a reasonable price. That is certainly an opportunity of which the department is aware, and about which it will be vigilant. On procurement generally, I have said before that defence procurement is probably the most complex in government, and that is why, through last year’s Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, we are working to improve the speed of acquisition and ensure we incentivise innovation and productivity.

My Lords, the Minister made clear Warrior has a critical role at the present time in the British Armed Forces. Have any Warriors been gifted to Ukraine and, if so, how many? Is there any intention to gift any more to Ukraine, to help them in their struggle against Russia?

I do not have specific information to reply to that question, but I shall make inquiries and disclose what is available to the noble and gallant Lord.

My Lords, it must be said that the Minister shows tremendous optimism and does a very good job defending the Ministry of Defence. Does she understand that the optimism she shows is not shared around the House, on these Benches as well as elsewhere? I do not see much excitement about the Minister’s announcement on these Benches and elsewhere. It is not just our opponents who think the defence procurement programme is a mess; it is us as well. Could she please go back to the Ministry of Defence, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister and say that this requires urgency: there is a war in Europe and we need to get on with getting good equipment and munitions, and we are not doing it fast enough?

I hesitate to rebuke my noble friend, of whom I am very fond, but there is at least one person in this Chamber who is extremely excited about the MoD equipment programme sustained by an unprecedented generosity of budget, and it is me, because I see at first hand exactly what is happening. I see the excitement it affords to our Armed Forces; they are motivated and responding to the challenges in front of them. The Ukrainian conflict, while desperately sad in one respect, has certainly heightened the need for us to be investing in our capability. Everyone recognises what we are doing; these new facilities coming on tap, to provide the two new armoured brigade combat teams, are very effective, muscular components. I ask my noble friend not to be too pessimistic and cry into his beer because it is important to our Armed Forces that we show we support them and we are behind everything we ask them to do.