The Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace has said that the UK’s upcoming integrated Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) must be rooted in financial reality while answering defence questions in Parliament.
Wallace said that the UK Government’s upcoming SDSR must be properly funded and that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) must be honest with what it can afford and what kit can be supplied to personnel, as he answered questions on defence from members of parliament on Monday.
The upcoming quinquennial review is set to analyse the UK’s military place in the world as it leaves the European Union, and looks at how defence and foreign policy can be better carried out.
Responding to a question from the newly-elected chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood, Wallace said: “If these reviews are to be worth anything they have to be properly funded. That means it requires honesty both from the department [MOD], from wider government, from the Treasury and indeed for the ambitions of what we want our country to do and be around the world.
“If we match our appetite to our stomachs, then I think it will have a long-lasting legacy”
Planning for the defence review is underway, with publication details to be clarified as it progresses; however, Army Technology understands the government plans to have the review concluded by the end of the year, most likely in the autumn.
Labour MP Meg Hillier challenged Wallace saying that the UK has had several defence reviews with defence ministers promising their review ‘would be different’, adding that there is often a mismatch between the funds made available and the plans outlined in the review.
Responding, Wallace said: “The first thing we can do is to be honest to our men and women in our armed forces about what we can afford and what we are going to give them, and at the same time to be honest to the public about what are ambitions are globally.
“And make that honesty not hankered in sentimentality, but make it based in financial reality. And make sure that the whole of government buys into that.”
Wallace’s words in the Commons echoed Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter’s speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) late last year, where he called for the upcoming SDSR to take an ‘honest’ account of the armed forces’ needs and wants as it looks to develop a plan for facing a range of new and often hybrid threats.
Also during the parliamentary questions, a number of MPs pushed defence ministers to commit to building the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries’ new Fleet Solid Support Ships in the UK. The process to build the ships was scrapped late last year over concerns that bidders may not deliver value for money.
The move was praised by MPs and UK industry as a step towards having the ships reclassified as warships so that they must be built in the UK, Responding to the questions today, Minister for Defence Procurement James Heappey said that the competition to build the ships has yet to be restarted.
The MOD is understood to still be evaluating the best way to proceed with the contract and acquisition of the vessels, which will support the UK’s new aircraft carriers.
Heappey also said that the MOD is “committed to supporting the UK defence manufacturing industry and since 2015 has published the National Shipbuilding Strategy, launched the Combat Air Strategy and refreshed the Defence Industrial Policy.”
These earlier publications are likely to inform the upcoming SDSR.