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Army Equipment

Volume 673: debated on Monday 16 March 2020

The Army conducts annual assessments to ensure that it has the right equipment for the future. It is undergoing an ambitious capability transformation programme, including investing in new, fully digitised Ajax and Boxer vehicles.

If the range and capability of our battle tanks and armoured vehicles are inferior to that of our potential adversaries, it is difficult for our world-class armed forces to continue to operate in that sphere. Will the Minister assure the House that the Challenger 2 and Warrior programmes will be brought forward at the earliest possible opportunity, to ensure that our world-class troops have world-class equipment?

The hon. Gentleman is right: we need the very best equipment for our armed forces. As he is probably aware, the Army has no fewer than nine key projects for equipment modernisation, totalling some £17 billion over the next 10 years, and around 130 smaller projects. He mentions two in particular. On Challenger 2, we are well advanced through the assessment phase and will take decisions on that at a future date. On Warrior, we are on to the demonstration phase, which is going well, and we will be taking decisions in the future.

The recent National Audit Office report on the Government’s defence equipment plan showed that there is a potential funding shortfall of £13 billion, which will no doubt affect Army equipment as well as Navy and RAF equipment. Given that this is now the third time that the NAO has deemed the plan unaffordable, when will the Minister get to grips with this funding crisis?

We are getting to grips with it right now. We are grateful to the NAO for its work. I gently point out to the hon. Lady that the Department hit budget this year, last year and the year before. We constantly review budgets to make certain that the equipment plan is affordable. We have shrunk the gap significantly, and we had additional assistance from the Treasury last year. We will make certain that we are meeting the needs of the armed forces.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but we know that the Army has cancelled various anti-armour projects and reduced the number of tanks it will upgrade. There have also been recent reports suggesting that the Army is to face further cuts in the integrated review. Can the Minister guarantee that the review will not be yet another cost-cutting exercise, leaving our armed forces short of the equipment that we need to defend the country?

The integrated review is under way; it is nowhere near to bringing itself to any conclusions yet. The review looks at the totality of our place in the world, as the hon. Lady recognises, and how we operate as a country across the broadest spectrum. It is not a review designed to cut costs. It is a review designed to ensure that we know what we are doing in the world and that that is effected through really effective equipment—that is the purpose of the integrated review, and we look forward to its response.

May I ask Ministers to extend the gratitude of the Defence Committee for our visit to Army HQ in Andover on Thursday? It was an illuminating visit, and the issue of Warrior and Challenger—now two decades old—came up. The Minister mentioned the integrated review. Given what we learned and the fantastic efforts that are being made to support the nation in tackling the coronavirus, may I invite the Secretary of State and the Minister to delay the integrated review until the new year, to ensure that we do it properly, rather than rush it when the focus is elsewhere at the moment?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to his Defence Committee for their work. The integrated review is important: it is important that we get on to it and move on with it at pace. We need to take firm decisions, and the swifter the better. However, as ever, we are mindful of events, and such things will obviously be taken into consideration if they need to be.

I thank the Minister of State for his recent visit to Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land at BAE Systems in my constituency, following the award of part of the Boxer contract to that consortium. On the issue of Challenger 2 and the life extension project, does the Minister of State think that Shropshire defence manufacturing will feature in his decision making, and will the decision-making maingate still be this autumn?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was a great pleasure to visit his constituency and see at first hand the extraordinary skills in that constituency, and it was a great pleasure to meet many apprentices. As I said earlier about Challenger 2, we are in the assessment phase, and a decision on any next steps will be taken at a later date. I thank my hon. Friend for the question and the interest he always shows in the defence manufacturers in his constituency.