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MS: Urgent Procurement Reform and Capability Gaps
Mr Speaker:

I rise to make a statement to the House on the changes to the urgent operational needs procurement system and the acquisition of critically needed capabilities for the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before continuing this announcement, I would like to first begin by recognizing the members of our Armed Forces serving overseas and fighting to ensure Britain’s security.

Mr Speaker, my time as Minister of State for Defence Procurement made me acutely aware of the difficulties that our Armed Forces face in receiving equipment needed to fill urgent and critical capability gaps. The current policy requires that any user identifying a capability gap would be required to submit a urgent statement of user requirement, a USUR, to Headquarters Joint Forces. This statement could originate from a front line officer, a theatre commander, an official at the Ministry of Defence, an official at JFHQ, or someone else entirely. It would then be processed by JFHQ, then passed to the capability assessment group, who would consider it. It would then be passed to acquisition executives for consideration and the development of a business case. It would then be sent to the Ministry of Defence head office for approval. Mr Speaker – this is a bureaucratic mess. More importantly, it is a bureaucratic mess that costs British lives.

During the debates surrounding the procurement of the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, the urgent needs acquisition failed spectacularly. Only ministers, myself among them, demanding changes and the development of a capability resulted in the eventual rapid deployment of MRAPs to protect British soldiers operating in Iraq. It is but a single case that emphasizes the need to change the system. I come before the House today to announce that we are making a critical change to promote rapid development of tools to fill critical capability gaps faced by British forces operating in current and future conflicts.

At my direction, the Ministry of Defence is forming the Warfighter Support Procurement Group, which will work to streamline the process for meeting urgent operational needs and urgent replenishment needs faced by the Armed Forces during operational deployment. This groups will be chaired by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and will include representatives from the Defence Staff in the form of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Equipment Capability, the Chief of Joint Operations or a representative, the Director of the Defence Equipment and Support Agency, and other individuals as directed by the Minister of State. This group will streamline the USUR process and provide a direct line from the theatre commander to the Ministry of Defence, bypassing the current procedural quagmire that exists.

As part of this reform I am designating the theatre commander as the responsible officer for coordinating USURs and forwarding them to the Warfighter Support Procurement Group for consideration. This action will reinforce the chain of command in submitting USURs, which does not exist under the current system, and create a single responsible individual to ensure that there is accountability on the theatre end for identifying and articulating capability gaps that critically impair the mission of the Armed Forces when deployed.

To support theater commanders in this operation, we will deploy teams from the Ministry of Defence, including both civilian and uniformed personnel, that are broadly representative of the groups involved in the procurement process to the theatre headquarters to assist the theatre commander in identifying and articulating critical needs and capability gaps to the Warfighter Support Procurement Group. These teams will be tasked with coordinating with the Ministry of Defence, Joint Headquarters, and the procurement apparatus before, during, and post-submission of a USUR in order to ensure that the need is met.

It is often said, Mr Speaker, that a favourite pastime of those working in the defence acquisitions space is preparing for the wars and conflicts that we will fight. What gets missed in that is a focus on the wars that we are currently fighting. It is a mentality that does not serve Britain’s security or, more importantly, the men and women of our Armed Forces that risk their lives to protect our nation every day. By reforming the urgent needs procurement system, we are making a clear statement that the needs of British forces fighting the wars of today are an absolute top priority for the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Speaker, I now move on the second part of my statement to the House, regarding the approval of immediate acquisition needs for the support of British forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. Upon taking office, I spoke directly with the commanding officers of Operations Telic and Herrick regarding urgent needs for the support of British forces. In particular two capabilities were noted as needing immediate action: helicopter capability and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability.

Helicopter capabilities, Mr Speaker, are critical for two purposes: attack and support roles. Attack helicopters are critical in providing fire support to British forces engaging the enemy – this is particularly true in Afghanistan where the Taliban engages in larger force movements when compared to Iraq. Support helicopters transport British forces – both military and civilian – rapidly in conflict zones. More importantly, because they travel in the air, support helicopters are not at risk of improvised explosive device attack. Investment in support helicopters will help to save the lives of British forces.

To this end, Mr Speaker, the Government approved the immediate procurement of six Agusta Westland Apache helicopters to fill a capability need in the attack helicopter role and ten Agusta Westland AW101 Merlin helicopters to fill a capability need in the support helicopter role. We anticipate that these helicopters will be prepared for immediate deployment within one year and will be produced in the United Kingdom to the standards that the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy expect of helicopters entering their service. This additional procurement will drastically improve our helicopter capability in current theatre operations and will save lives. Additionally, Mr Speaker, we are providing investment to ensure that every helicopter, particularly the AW101 Merlin, deployed in support of Operations Telic and Herrick receives the ballistic protection that it requires.

ISTAR is critical to the management of any modern military operation, Mr Speaker. ISTAR is vital for identifying threats posed to British forces, particularly to fixed bases which the Taliban increasingly targets in southern Afghanistan, and for identifying targets and supply networks used by terrorists and insurgents. ISTAR resources can also be used to directly target enemy forces, where appropriate. Currently, Mr Speaker, the ISTAR capabilities of the Armed Forces are lacking. The Reaper UAV programme, which the United Kingdom joined and is an emerging arm of our ISTAR capabilities, is limited to two UAVs operated by the Royal Air Force, supplemented by whatever UAV capabilities that the United States Air Force can provide. This is supported by the use of Sentinel and light aircraft. This is insufficient in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence is working to rapidly expand our MQ-9 Reaper capacity, Mr Speaker, and contracted to procure an additional seven MQ-9 Reaper UAVs in the coming year. These drones will be primarily operated by Royal Air Force personnel out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, until such a time that the Royal Air Force is prepared to operate our UAV forces at based in the United Kingdom. This investment, while expensive, will more than triple our in theatre UAV capacity and assist our forces in receiving the intelligence and targeting information that they require to perform their mission.

Finally, Mr Speaker, we will launch a demonstration project using the Persistent Threat Detection System to protect British forces operating in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Unlike UAVs, PTDS uses a fixed aerostat with high resolution and night-vision cameras to monitor the area around a fixed location for miles and, as the United States demonstrated, can detect the placement of IEDs or approaching enemy combatants. Currently, the United Kingdom deploys UAVs in this role. However, PTDS requires less manpower to operate and upkeep, while providing the same level of information and allowing UAVs to be used for longer range operations and missions that require more flexibility.

These are significant investments in critically needed capabilities that will help British forces fight, and win, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Combined with our proposals to urgent requisitioning and acquisition systems, the Government is making the changes necessary to ensure that British forces have the tools that they need to succeed both in this current conflict and in future conflicts. I commend this statement to the House.
Caroline Blakesley || Foreign Secretary
Labour | Holborn and St Pancras (2001-present)
Traits: Media Darling, Campaigning Guru, Maverick
I mean, nobody bothered to show up so it's a Labour win and Labour essentially own the military procurement issue until something shakes the public's confidence in them... If you don't show up you don't get to stop them from walking all over you, it's that simple.

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