24 July 2023

UK’s defence industry is not a Marks & Spencer’s operation, says ex-top brass

24 July 2023

The UK’s defence industry cannot be compared to a Marks & Spencer “knocking out women’s underwear” as it is much harder to provide missiles and weapons systems, a former top brass has said.

The former head of the Royal Navy Lord West of Spithead raised concerns about the pace and efficiency of the UK’s defence industry in meeting demands, as he called for a much more comprehensive strategy.

The independent crossbench peer urged the Government to move away from a “just-enough, just-in-time” approach when it comes to replacing ammunition and missile stocks given to Ukraine.

His comments came after defence minister Baroness Goldie told the House of Lords substantial contracts had been placed to directly replace munitions granted to Ukraine.

These orders included next-generation light anti-tank weapons, Starstreak high-velocity missiles, lightweight multirole missiles, Javelin missiles, Brimstone missiles, 155 mm artillery rounds, and 5.56 millimetre rifle rounds.

Despite the progress, Lord West expressed his dissatisfaction with the time it took to initiate the orders, saying: “There’s no doubt it’s been a long time before we got various orders in.

“The Ukrainian war started 17 months ago, and a number of members in this House… referred to the need to put in various orders.

“And it’s not surprising because actually for too long we have run a ‘just-enough, just-in-time’ type philosophy, as regards war stocks and replacing ammunition and missiles.”

He went on: “We are not a Marks & Spencer knocking out women’s underwear.

“That is not the basis on which we are providing stuff. It is much harder to actually provide missiles and weapons systems.

“Could I ask the minister, looking into the future, would it be possible for a cross-party initiative to produce a defence industrial strategy that looks at making sure our defence industries are sufficiently paid for so that they can actually boost supply of weapons in crisis and war?”

We are not a Marks & Spencer knocking out women's underwear. That is not the basis on which we are providing stuff. It is much harder to actually provide missiles and weapons systems.

Lady Goldie replied: “He will be aware of two things: there has been a very extensive supply of weapons to Ukraine and that is evidenced by the recent written statement which I laid before this House of July 20.

“He will also be aware that there has been an overall challenge with the industry experienced by other Nato members because some of them were not production ready. We know that. The MoD (Ministry of Defence) has engaged closely. The industry is now in a much healthier state.

“And I hope the recent list of orders which I indicated reflects that much healthier state, and that the MoD is satisfied along with our Nato partners.

“Industry is now geared up to supply what is needed.”

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