A new report by the Defence Committee comes amid intensifying debate about whether we are on the cusp of another world war – and whether Britain would be ready to fight.
The UK armed forces are losing personnel faster than they can recruit, leaving their “warfighting readiness” in doubt, according to a new report by the Defence Committee.
The report also found the military has “key capability and stockpile shortages” that would hamper its ability to engage in “all-out, prolonged war”.
It comes as the Royal Navy announced that its most powerful warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, would not be sailing from Portsmouth on Sunday as planned to head more than 40 vessels taking part in the largest NATO exercise in Europe since the Cold War because of a mechanical issue.
The fleet commander said: “Routine pre-sailing checks yesterday identified an issue with a coupling on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s starboard propeller shaft.
“As such, the ship will not sail on Sunday. HMS Prince of Wales will take the place of HMS Queen Elizabeth on NATO duties and will set sail for Exercise Steadfast Defender as soon as possible.”
The Steadfast Defender drills will take place off Norway’s Arctic coast in March.
The deployment comes after armed forces minister James Heappey suggested that a British aircraft carrier could be sent to the Red Sea amid the continuing threat by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The Defence Committee report comes amid intensifying debate about whether we are on the cusp of another world war – and whether Britain would be ready to fight.
These comments have driven conversation about whether we could see a return to conscription.
The Defence Committee said it was “increasingly concerned” about what it called a “crisis” in recuitment and retention.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has publicly conceded just five people are recruited to the armed forces for every eight who leave – but the committee said it understood the situation may now be even worse.
The military is “consistently overstretched”, it said, which has a personal cost for staff and impacts retention.
“A steady, continuous drip of operations and ongoing commitments has meant the military is unable to devote sufficient training and resources to high-intensity warfighting,” chair of the committee, Sir Jeremy Quin, said.
“While able to deploy at short notice and to fulfil commitments, our inquiry found that readiness for all-out, prolonged war has received insufficient attention and needs intense ongoing focus.”
Readiness is defined as how long it takes to go from an initial order to a unit being ready to perform its task, and is considered an important part of deterrence.
Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College London, told the inquiry that if the UK had to fight a “come-as-you-are war”, the armed forces would “have difficulty” given their current levels of equipment and stockpiles.
Sir Jeremy said it was time for the government to make “difficult choices”.
“Either invest fully in our military or recognise that proper prioritisation of warfighting will mean less availability for other tasks,” he said.
“We need to be strategic about the resources we have, including how to maintain and replenish stockpiles, and consider how to ensure that equipment – even after retirement – does not go to waste.”
The Defence Committee, which is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the MoD, also took aim at an “unacceptable… lack of government transparency” during its inquiry.
“Key information that was readily available a decade ago is no longer published for reasons that are unclear, and the government has taken excessive time to respond to our requests for information,” it said.