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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today that the Ministry of Defence has a good system for reporting the readiness of its Armed Forces, which continues to improve. More work is required, however, both to better define and measure its Public Service Agreement target for readiness, and to define and mitigate the main areas of risk to the readiness of the Armed Forces, such as logistic support.

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The Department has a good system for reporting the readiness of the Armed Forces, and has improvements planned.

The Department has developed a sophisticated system for defining, measuring and reporting the readiness of the Armed Forces. It is continuously being improved; compares well with similar readiness systems used by countries such as Australia, Denmark and United States; and senior United Kingdom commanders have expressed their confidence in it.

The Department also has a Public Service Agreement target for readiness, and this has recently been improved to include all Force Elements; to better reflect the Department’s activities by recognising the importance of related elements of military operations; and to take into account the levels of military activity proposed in the 2003 Defence White Paper. It can be improved further by making information publicly available that indicates the broad baseline from which improvements will be made, and by providing information so that the public can assess whether the Department is on course to meet the targets. The Department has already begun to act on the National Audit Office’s recommendations.

Readiness states for October to December 2004 (the most recent data available) were assessed overall as “yellow” – minor weaknesses. This performance represented a marked improvement over the preceding year in terms of the proportion of Force Elements with no critical weaknesses, which increased from 80 per cent in July to September 2003 to 98 per cent in October to December 2004. The proportion reporting no serious or critical weaknesses over the period was more variable, ranging from two-thirds to four-fifths of Force Elements.

Given the unpredictable security environment and high operational tempo, there are risks to readiness of the Armed Forces for contingent operations that need to be managed

The Department has a risk reporting system that includes readiness risks, which are managed against the background of an unpredictable security environment and military activity levels that for the last three years have exceeded the routine scale of effort envisaged by the Department. This position is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Department has done well to identify the main factors that might hinder their ability to be ready to undertake future operations. It has also identified areas where more work needs to be done; for example, in aligning more closely the levels of support that the Defence Logistics Organisation provides with the levels front line forces require to meet readiness targets.

More work could be done to assess how confident the Department can be that it can manage the risks to readiness (for example, the Department is relying on urgent procurements to fill gaps in equipment levels within readiness timescales) and to evaluate the longer term risks to readiness of the practice of redistributing personnel and equipment from non-deploying units to those Force Elements required for operations. The Department’s management boards rightly focus on those risks that appear to present the greatest threats to their business objectives. But there is a potential danger that the cumulative effect of a series of minor risks could have serious impacts on the readiness of Force Elements for further operations.

"At a time when the security environment is unpredictable, it is encouraging that the Ministry of Defence is continuing to develop the system that reports the readiness of its Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defence has identified a number of factors that may hinder the readiness of the Armed Forces and these need to be watched carefully. In particular, it needs to evaluate longer-term risks to the United Kingdom forces’ ability to undertake future operations. I am pleased that the Ministry of Defence has already begun work in response to the recommendations in this Report."

Sir John Bourn


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