Report examines support to armed forces on operations

13 October 2009

Public Accounts Committee report published today examines the availability of equipment and spares, the re-supply of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the training of Service personnel for operations and support to Service personnel in theatre.

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The MOD has had some successes in providing support for our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan: notably, the delivery of life-saving medical treatment at the front line. But there are important areas where the process is creaking.

"Most of the new equipment needed by our forces has been procured through an accelerated process, designed to deliver urgently needed kit as fast as possible to deal with rapidly evolving threats and harsh environmental conditions. And this equipment has mostly performed well. But the serious downside is that problems with reliability have sometimes emerged only after the kit has actually been deployed. The MOD’s high degree of reliance on this procurement process must be questioned.

"Both ground vehicles and helicopters have suffered from shortages of spare parts. Helicopters back home have had to be cannibalised; and our forces in theatre have been compelled to rely on contracted and coalition helicopters.

"The process of getting equipment and supplies out to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is undeniably an extremely demanding one. But the fact that the MOD continues to fail to meet its own supply chain targets is of concern. The Department must improve its logistic information systems so that it always knows where stocks are and can fully track through the supply chain their movement to our troops."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 54th report of this Session which examined the availability of equipment and spares, the re-supply of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the training of Service personnel for operations and support to Service personnel in theatre.

The United Kingdom has deployed forces in Iraq since 2003 as part of the United States-led Multi-National Force-Iraq. On 30 April 2009, the Government announced the end of United Kingdom combat missions in Iraq and, as at May 2009, the number of United Kingdom forces had reduced to around 3,700 as part of the planned drawdown. United Kingdom Forces have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2002. The Ministry of Defence (the Department) currently has around 8,300 personnel there as part of a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, predominantly in the Helmand province of Southern Afghanistan.

Both these theatres have presented considerable operational challenges for the Department in supporting United Kingdom forces. The combination of long distances between both Iraq and Afghanistan and the United Kingdom, as well as the lack of direct maritime access to Afghanistan, complicate the transporting of personnel and equipment. In addition, undertaking operations in these countries means coping with difficult environmental conditions, including harsh and varied terrain, extreme temperatures and dust. In Afghanistan, the pace and intensity of operations continues to be high against a significant and determined enemy threat. The support the Department provides to forces deployed on operations is crucial in enabling military capability.

The provision of medical support, including life-saving treatment at the front line, has been a particular success. This is reflected in the increasing number of unexpected survivors following severe battlefield injuries.

The provision of pre-deployment training is responsive to changing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and theatre commanders are confident of its quality. But pre-deployment training is constrained by a number of factors, particularly the shortage of appropriate equipment to train with and delays in replicating Middle Eastern environments. The proportion of soldiers and Royal Marines who are not training with their units before deploying is increasing, passing risk on to theatre commanders.

The majority of equipment procured as Urgent Operational Requirements has performed well in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these new vehicles, such as Mastiff, have provided improved protection. There have, however, been shortages of spare parts, including for Mastiff. Spare parts for the Merlin and Apache helicopters are also in short supply, and cannibalisation of helicopters to support the fleets deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed to an 11 per cent shortfall in helicopters available for training and to support contingent operations.

The Department has not met its supply chain targets for the delivery of stock to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since July 2007 only 57 per cent of demands made in Afghanistan and 71 per cent made in Iraq met the supply chain targets. The Department has put in place measures to improve this performance, including action to increase the proportion of routine stocks that are delivered by surface transport. Despite progress, the Department’s logistic information remains inadequate.

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