There is no doubt that the Urgent Operational Requirement system has provided a wide range of operationally essential equipment in the last decade or more of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a system that although established well before those two operations has seen significantly greater use recently.
On one hand, the system works most of the time but on the other, it has masked a wider problem with both operational analysis driven requirements generation and logistics and support.
Politicians, the MoD and the senior grown ups in the three services, publicly at least, never voice any criticism of the UOR system.
The odd failure like those gucci ladders and the Springer for example, don’t detract from what has broadly been a success.
With every plus though, there is a minus, or in this case, several.
Recent Parliamentary Answers have indicated that the vast majority of equipment will be coming back from Afghanistan. This means space has to be found, equipment inspected and overhauled, training packages and logistic support arrangements formlalised, modifications made (for cold weather for example) and force structures inevitably built around equipment availability.
This is only a small problem, the bigger problem the UOR has created has two sides.
First, is the myth that the equipment that has been purchased was a result of unforeseen circumstances.
I find this claim completely laughable and it lets the MoD and Senior Officers completely off the hook. Whilst creating a UoR for a newly developed field dressing might be wholly justified the cause celeb of the UoR, the Protected Patrol Vehicle, is a capability that the British Armed Forces have repeatedly needed, repeatedly urgently fielded and repeatedly dumped soon after.
Although the Foxhound, some ten years late, is a great example of the Army finally taking the IED threat seriously, how many lives and how much money has it taken to deliver a vehicle into the core equipment programme that is fit for the vast majority of operations it has and will be engaged in?
It if frankly ludicrous to suggest the Army was unable to foresee the IED threat and equip for it, or foresee a need for a vehicle to move supplies to and from a helicopter landing site because it had, had obtained such equipment but then discarded it.
Operational analysis should be a simple affair, we have faced IED’s and mines in pretty much every campaign the Army has been involved with post war, whoever would have thought they would be found in Iraq and Afghanistan!!
Second, in accepting Number 1, it allows the MoD to have an equipment plan predicated upon having gaps and holes that can be filled with future UoR’s for some future operation.
It will result in a hollow force that is not equipped to fight likely operations but instead having to rely on the good graces of the defence industry having a range of suitable equipment sitting on their very expensive shelves ready for when Uncle Treasury Reserve pays a visit with his credit card.
The practical outcome of this is very simple.
If the MoD is allowed to rely too heavily on future UoR’s the likelihood of placing under equipped service personnel into harms way in some future operation becomes very high.
There will be a temptation to think of capability as a game of two halves, except it won’t be an equal division of funding. Instead, we will find the very expensive major capital projects taking an increasingly larger slice of the equipment budget as lucrative defence industry jobs for senior officers inevitably distort the prioritisation process.
Capabilities that can be fulfilled within months will be shuffled down the pecking order thus creating a training and support deficit in addition to the inevitable fielding gap, time delays that will cost personnel lives and limbs.
It is the role of the political leadership at the MoD and Treasury to stop this over reliance on future UoR funding.
The armed forces have to be ready to fight, not in a while.