The Financial Times reported, earlier this week, on the news that the Ministry of Defence is set to cut down on long term procurement projects, in favour of getting equipment needed right now to the troops on the front line. Such a shift has, in itself, some logic to it. There are serious concerns that lives are being put at risk in Afghanistan due to shortages of the right equipment.
The risk is that Britain is left poorly prepared for future conflicts. Unfortunately, it seems quite plausible that the most recently commissioned projects, where less work has already been done such as the F-35 Lightning II where the contract has yet to be signed, will be the ones to get the chop. While this would save the most money and involve the fewest contractual difficulties in the event of cancellation, it might leave us focussing on those projects that have been a work in progress for the longest and are least well suited to the tasks that the British military can expect to face in the coming decades.
There are broader problems with military procurement that need to be addressed. Douglas Carswell MP has expressed concerns that: "The defence industrial strategy is more about industry than defence. It does more to safeguard the interests of selected contractors than the interests of the armed forces. The DIS is good at putting large amounts of public money on to the balance sheets of a few contractors, but that is about all it is good for." Too often, expensive, long-term, co-operative projects are preferred to effective, cheaper options that can be bought off the shelf.
What is particularly galling is that the Ministry of Defence never looks at its own bureaucracy to find savings. There are over 70,000 civil servants (PDF) at the Ministry of Defence. Their headquarters has been refurbished at a cost, including running the building, of £2.3 billion, each chair cost £1,000. That kind of luxury back in Whitehall, while the department is struggling to equip troops on the frontline, is absolutely outrageous. Particularly when those Civil Servants appear to have little interest in producing an effective military. If the Ministry wants to save money, it should start there.