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The Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) procured GBP 1.3 Bn of lethal and non-lethal equipment and support for Ukraine in financial year 2022/23 (FY22/23), DE&S announced on 21 July 2023.

The organisation’s support for Ukraine, detailed in the publication of its Annual Report and Accounts (ARAC) for FY22/23 on 20 July, involved the UK’s largest movement of ammunition since the Second World War, it noted.

“Over the past year, our nation has faced multiple challenges to its security and prosperity. Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, the global economic downturn, high inflation and the worsening impacts of climate change have severely tested our supply chains and industrial base, but our Annual Report demonstrates that DE&S has responded well,” the organisation’s CEO, Andy Start, was quoted as saying in a press release.

DE&S has understandably lauded its performance in support of Ukraine, but UK defence procurement more generally is viewed by many as ‘not fit for purpose’. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

“The pace and scale of our support to Ukraine has been incredible,” he added, “and I am proud that we have enabled the rapid procurement, movement and largest delivery of equipment and ammunition since the Second World War. Added to this the ongoing strong performance against the armed forces’ strategic milestones and our delivery of efficiency savings are helping Defence deliver on its mission to support UK security and prosperity.”

In addition to its support for Ukraine, DE&S cited delivering 91% of its strategic milestones and remaining within budget while realising GBP 169 M (EUR 197.3 M) of efficiencies – exceeding its in-year target by GBP 48 M – among its key achievements for FY22/23.

In addition, DE&S stated that a further highlight in its FY22/23 ARAC was its performance against the UK MoD’s Equipment Plan, showing DE&S delivered 826 new assets with a gross book value of GBP 2.062 Bn, of which the largest were three F-35B Lightning II aircraft valued at GBP 85 million each.

However, that is not to say the UK defence procurement doesn’t have its problems. On 17 July a UK Parliament Defence Sub-Committee published a highly critical report stating of the UK defence procurement system, “It is broke – and it’s time to fix it.”

Summarising its findings, the Defence Sub-Committee’s report stated, “We have discovered a UK procurement system which is highly bureaucratic, overly stratified, far too ponderous, with an inconsistent approach to safety, very poor accountability and a culture which appears institutionally averse to individual responsibility.”

Among the report’s recommendations for improvements were: improving accountability and aligning it more clearly with responsibility to actually empower those who need to deliver change to do so; and placing a much greater value on time, promoting a sense of urgency rather than institutional lethargy, and preventing endless ‘requirements creep’ from the UK armed forces adversely affecting programmes.

The report also emphasised the importance of improving skills within DE&S, including a professional procurement stream within the military. It advocated extending time in post for key positions to improve continuity and giving access to specialist contract lawyers to help write far more robust contracts.

Lastly, the report stressed that, if the UK defence establishment “is to acquire the increased resources which we strongly believe it really needs, including over the medium to long term — and not least from a Treasury grown weary from years of multiple, high-profile procurement failures — then the Ministry of Defence now needs to demonstrably ‘put its own house in order’, to make a convincing case that it really can spend money wisely.”

Coinciding with the Defence Sub-Committee’s inquiry, which began in January 2023, was the publication on 15 June of a ‘lessons learned’ review of the British Army’s acquisition of the Ajax family of armoured reconnaissance vehicles that found “systemic and institutional” failures in the army’s procurement process.

Peter Felstead