LONDON — The U.K. must change the way it procures weapons to rebuild stocks for the British military and sustain support for the Ukraine, the Labour Party’s shadow defense secretary will say in a speech scheduled for Feb 7.
“We need to shift parts of our defence industry and Ministry of Defence procurement on to an urgent operational footing, both to support Ukraine for the long-term and to replenish U.K. stocks for any future conflict” John Healey, the Labour defense spokesman is due to say in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.
The British government successfully used what is known an urgent operational requirement, or UOR, process in Iraq and Afghanistan to rapidly get capabilities into the front line, sweeping away red tape and often procuring weapons without lengthy competition.
Howard Wheeldon, a consultant at Wheeldon Strategic Advisory in London, said that moving toward a new procurement process needed broad political support.
“Mr. Healey is correct in suggesting that we need to revive our approach toward UOR, this can only be done as part of a wider industrial strategic approach to defense and one that, in my view, can only be achieved if it has cross-party support,” Wheeldon said.
Healey will say in his speech the MoD needs to come up with a “stockpiles strategy” to overhaul a “wasteful peacetime procurement system” and gear up domestic industry to maintain military help to Ukraine and restock weapons and ammunition for the British armed forces as well. Labour’s thinking on defense is becoming of increasing relevance.
The ruling Conservative Party doesn’t have to hold a general election until early 2025. But with the economy in a mess, the party itself riven by in-fighting and scandal and other woes, it has for now, at least, put Labour miles ahead in the polls.
The shadow defense secretary has previously said the MoD’s procurement system is broken , wasting tax payers money and leaving the armed forces without the capabilities and troops to fight or meet NATO obligations.
Healey, a long-time member of Parliament and in the defense post since April 2020, will use the speech to highlight three key steps the Labour Party believes the Government should take in its update of the integrated defense review due for publication sometime next month.
Boosting defense production, securing Britain as Europe’s leading NATO member and rebuilding security relations with European allies post Brexit, head the list of priorities to be outlined by Healey in his speech to RUSI members.
“While I can hardly disagree with the ambition and need to reboot U.K. defense strategy in the wake of Ukraine or the need for the U.K. government to urgently boost military production, particularly in regards to complex and other weapons, we must be mindful that successive government cuts to procurement over thirty years have reduced manufacturing capacity,” said Wheeldon.
“Any commitment by industry to gear up must also be supported by consistency from the MoD in respect of long term supply agreements,” he said.
The MoD has started replenishing missile and ammunition stocks but the need to revive supply chains and other factors have slowed the process.
The shadow defense spokesman will say that in government Labour would conduct a “NATO test” on major projects during its first 100 days to ensure Britain is on track to meet its NATO commitments.
This commitment, Healey will say, should include confirmation that further cuts to British Army numbers will be “halted.”
Wheeldon said that while he applauded many aspects of the Labour shadow defense secretary’s calls “reality suggest that unless, and until, the enemy is at the door the U.K. is hardly in a position to lead from the front. If the U.K. seeks to lead then this can only be achieved if it is seen across the rest of NATO to be rising to the challenge of the need for increased spending on defense.”
Healey also confirmed Labour would publish a new strategic defense and security review within a year of entering office should it win the next election.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.