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Future Soldier Programme

Volume 711: debated on Monday 28 March 2022

1. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the Army’s Future Soldier programme. (906291)

20. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the Army’s Future Soldier programme. (906312)

Future Soldier will see the largest transformation of the British Army in more than 20 years. This change, which is only just beginning, will create an Army that is more integrated, agile and lethal; a modern force fit to face up to current and future threats.

Can the Minister please assure me that the Army Future Soldier programme will keep pace with any emerging doctrinal lessons from Ukraine, and that the British Army will be structured and equipped to meet associated threats?

I certainly can. The integrated review was based on operational analysis of the land campaigns in northern Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. We are keenly watching the operational analysis as it comes in with regard to what is going on in Ukraine. At the moment, I think we would reflect that the nature of the land battle is exactly as we expected it to be, but clearly if the threat changes, the policy changes.

The Army Future Soldier programme was great news for Moray, an area that has benefited significantly from UK Government investment at RAF Lossiemouth. The Future Soldier programme confirmed that Kinloss barracks will not only be retained, but expanded. Will the Minister outline what plans he and the Government have for Kinloss barracks, working with 39 Engineer Regiment, which has been a valuable and integral part of the Moray community since it moved there a decade ago?

My hon. Friend will be delighted at the £25 million of capital investment in the single living accommodation at Kinloss before 2025, which is a reflection of just how important the base is to the Army going forward. 39 Engineer Regiment will remain at Kinloss and continue to play a key role in the Moray community. As part of the Future Soldier order of battle, it will remain in its current role as a force support air engineer regiment.

The infantry are the core of our Army, so why will most of the cuts in the Department’s plans fall on the infantry?

As a former infanteer, I agree vigorously with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The infantry are at the core of the fighting force—they are—but the reality is that we need to change our force design. The premium now is on dispersal and being able to operate effectively in a dispersed way. “Hide to survive” is the tag coming out of many war games and from what we are seeing in real life in Ukraine. The vision is for a more agile, more lethal infantry that is able to disperse and bring effect on to the enemy. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that, but he will have seen, from the footage of Ukrainians interrupting the activities of vast armoured columns, that small bands of determined people with the right missile technology are far more lethal than any opposing armoured force might prove to be.

I wonder if the Minister could advise the House on how extensively the Department is consulting through the ranks on the programme. Specifically, are serving personnel able to make recommendations or express opinions outwith the rank structure?

I am not sure I agree with the afterthought to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I know that the Chief of the General Staff and his team were vigorous in the way that the Future Army plans were communicated to the Army and that the Army chain of command had an opportunity to contribute to them. I am not sure that there is a mechanism quite as he envisages it, but the Army is, certainly in my experience, the sort of organisation that enjoys being challenged from within. I know there is plenty of challenge going on, so that the Army can make sure it develops the right plans for the future.

Mr Speaker, we are proud to receive the letter, which you read out, from the Ukrainian Speaker, and we are proud that President Zelensky said last night:

“Britain is definitely on our side.”

The Government have Labour’s full support for the UK’s military help to Ukraine. Putin’s brutal invasion surely reminds us that the Army’s primary role must be to reinforce Europe’s deterrence and defence against Russian aggression, so why do the Minister’s Future Soldier plans risk leaving the British Army too small, too thinly spread and too poorly equipped to deal with the threats that the UK and our NATO allies face?

I fear that the right hon. Gentleman and I have been looking at different sets of plans, because I see an Army that ends up being better equipped, more lethal and more integrated. The choice that was made to introduce the deep recce strike capability into the third armoured division is absolutely game changing, and it is what is required. The de-prioritisation of the close fight that we have seen in Nagorno-Karabakh, in northern Syria and now in Ukraine shows us that the key, defining characteristic of the modern land battle is the ability to strike precisely and in depth, and to attrit our enemy while they are moving towards us. That is what the deep recce strike brigade is going to get after.

The heart of our UK commitment to NATO is indeed a fully capable war-fighting division, which the former Chief of the Defence Staff has described as

“the standard whereby a credible army is judged.”

Why will this modernised war-fighting third division not be delivered until 2030? Why did Ministers decide it would be built around Ajax when they knew about the deep-seated problems? Why, when it took the German Chancellor just three days to overturn decades of defence policy and boost defence spending by €100 billion, does the National Audit Office say that UK Ministers could take another nine months even to decide whether to stick with or scrap Ajax?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that candour is the name of the game whenever I am speaking. I think there are reasons why both sides of the House could reflect on quite why our Army has the age of kit that it has. Governments of both parties have missed a number of opportunities to decide to renew the Army’s equipment inventory over the last 20 or 30 years. The reality is that the Army has to be redesigned to meet the threat as it now is, and I think that two armoured infantry or strike brigades with a deep recce strike brigade is exactly what a modern war-fighting division should look like. Within NATO, there are discussions about how the NATO force needs to transform to meet the modern threat.