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Ukraine: Ammunition and Missiles

Volume 832: debated on Monday 24 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what orders they have made so far, by weapon type, to replace ammunition and missile stocks given to Ukraine.

My Lords, I can confirm that a number of substantial contracts have been placed to directly replace munitions granted in kind to Ukraine. The contracts secured so far include orders for next generation light anti-tank weapons, Starstreak high-velocity missiles, lightweight multirole missiles, Javelin missiles, Brimstone missiles, 155-millimetre artillery rounds and 5.56-millimetre rifle rounds.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. There is no doubt that it has been a long time before we have got various orders in. The Ukrainian war started 17 months ago, and a number of Members in this House, including the noble and gallant Lord on the Cross Benches, have referred to the fact that we need to put in various orders. That is not surprising, because for too long we have run a just-enough and just-in-time philosophy for war stocks and replacing ammunition and missiles. We are not a Marks & Spencer knocking out women’s underwear—that is not the basis on which we are providing stuff; it is much harder to provide missiles and weapons systems. Looking to the future, would it be possible for a cross-party initiative to produce a defence-industrial strategy that looks at making sure that our defence industries are sufficiently paid for, so that they can boost the supply of weapons in crisis and war?

The noble Lord will be aware of two things. There has been an extensive supply of weapons to Ukraine, evidenced by the recent Written Statement that I laid before this House on 20 July. He will also be aware that there has been an overall challenge with the industry, experienced by other NATO members, because some of them were not production ready; we know that. The MoD has engaged closely. The industry is now in a much healthier state and I hope the recent list of orders, which I indicated, reflects that much healthier state and that the MoD is satisfied that, along with our NATO partners, industry is now geared up to supply what is needed.

My Lords, how many of the various types of ammunition and other missiles that were ordered were ordered from UK producers and how many from overseas?

The recent munitions contract for the 155-millimetre artillery shells is with BAE Systems, and part of this agreement involves an order for 30-millimetre cannon rounds and 5.56-millimetre rifle rounds. We have also placed orders with Thales—that is for the NLAWs—and there is a lot of activity now with our UK manufacturers.

My Lords, while I am encouraged by what my noble friend the Minister says about replenishing stocks, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West—perhaps unusually—that we must have a steady supply base. We have stopped asking for certain bits of ammunition and supply chains have dropped. I am afraid that defence is expensive and, as we now know, it is very expensive if you happen to be sitting in Ukraine.

Yes, and precisely that challenge has been acknowledged both by the Government and particularly by the MoD. My noble friend will recall that we have granted £2.3 billion-worth of military aid in 2022-23 and we are committed to repeating that for 2023-24. As I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord West, industry is now in a much more resilient position than it was, thankfully. We are satisfied that we have the funding streams, which are already public, to sustain a regular replenishment flow.

My Lords, the Minister’s answers today are encouraging, but the Written Ministerial Statement that sneaked out at the end of last week, seemingly to coincide with the Question from the noble Lord, Lord West—rather like the Etherton report coming out on the day of the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden—raises the question of whether the Government are being sufficiently proactive with information. In particular, the Written Ministerial Statement gives us data and says:

“The data below was last provided to the House … on 21 July 2022”.

Will it be possible for the House to be informed of equipment, ammunition and so on far more regularly post Recess?

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has indicated why the Written Ministerial Statement came out when it did. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State produced one a year ago and undertook to do that. I think the noble Baroness will understand that the provision of ammunition to Ukraine is a fluid and fast-moving scenario. We respond to the requests. We do our best to ensure that we provide Ukraine with what it actually needs. The effect of that is already being seen in the conflict zone. The noble Baroness will be aware that on 21 July my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary sent out a very helpful letter that detailed a raft of information that I think is very useful not just to the other place but to this Chamber.

My Lords, further to that question and to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord West, I am sure the Minister agrees that:

“We must shift our whole organisational culture away from the previous peacetime mentality to one where we live and operate as we would fight, focusing more on outputs than inputs”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/23; col. 788.]

I am quoting the Statement made by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons last week, so I am sure she agrees with that. The truth is that the Ukraine war has exposed the difficulty of increasing defence production quickly and the vulnerability of our supply chains. Is it not time now that the Government publish a full strategic plan to set out how to remedy this, not only because it is vital to our economy but because it will be crucial to the prosecution of the war?

I say to the noble Lord, in reference to the answers I have already given, that there is a very clear picture of how both the Government and industry have responded to this challenge. Industry was indeed operating on a peacetime expectation, and that has been shattered by the illegal war in Ukraine. From the information already provided, to which I have referred, it is obvious that a vast amount of work is going on. The MoD has already commenced a lot of the commendable reform work indicated in its Defence Command Paper refresh. I am satisfied that it is a fighting fit, ready-for-purpose department.

My Lords, is there any way of maintaining the export of grain through Odessa without the agreement of the Russians?

The simple answer is that it would be very difficult. Russia’s termination of the grain agreement is serious and is having a humanitarian impact. Alternative ways of getting grain out of Ukraine are being investigated, but Russia is pivotal to the smooth flow of that grain.

My Lords, given the importance of increasing the supply of ammunition to Ukraine, and the stockpiles, can the Minister reassure us that everything is in place to get this done as quickly as possible? Can she reassure us about steps the Government are taking to ensure that happens?

I gave some indication of some of the contracts that have been placed; these are already in place for delivery. Of course, there are other arms of delivery through the NATO action plan and the International Fund for Ukraine. These agencies are working hard with the defence industry to aggregate production of ammunition and give Ukraine what it needs.

My Lords, can the Minister answer the simple question: do the new contracts merely replenish the stocks, or do they maintain the means of production?

I think the answer is that they are doing both. We are now looking at this as a more holistic supply. We are not necessarily replacing like for like, as the noble and gallant Lord will be aware. That means that industry is moving on to a more resilient, innovative platform, to ensure that it can meet these new types of demand.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as the Government’s defence exports advocate, and as a serving member of His Majesty’s Armed Forces. My noble friend is quite right that more orders are being placed, but the fact remains that, unlike the maritime industrial base, we have allowed the land industrial base to atrophy over many years. That has been because of the inconsistency of orders to industry. Given that we need a regular tempo of orders, what conversations has my noble friend had with our NATO allies, so that we can work together to ensure that regular tempo is ordered to industry?

I thank my noble friend for his contributions on all fronts, which are very much appreciated. There has been very focused endeavour at the NATO end. That has been manifest on a number of occasions, most recently in Vilnius when the Prime Minister was there with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary. On 15 June, the United States hosted the Ukraine defence contact group. On 16 June, at the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting, the Defence Secretary announced an additional £60 million in funding from the UK. All this is indicative of activity that is about ensuring a regular drum beat of orders to the defence industry. It is not just the United Kingdom; all our partners and allies are making the same requests.