Ministry of Defence is ‘not up to the task’ amid failure to digitalise, MPs warn
Image credit: Image by Dreamstime, editing by Beatriz Valero
A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found that modern warfare is “accelerating away” from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), as it failed to deliver fundamental upgrades.
The PAC report stressed that the department had been “struggling for years” to deliver critical digital projects, some of them needed for use by UK warships and satellites.
The chair of the committee, Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, said the MoD was "frankly not up to the task it faces", and called for a "significant cultural change" to bring the systems up to date and to be prepared for modern battles ahead.
As a result of long delays, PAC found the MoD was critically delayed on several projects, which were now in danger “of being obsolescent on delivery”.
In addition, two projects – the New Style IT Base and MODNet Evolve – have been deemed “unachievable” by the oversight body, MPs said.
“There is no world in which that is an acceptable situation at the heart of our national defence,” Hillier said.
According to PAC's report, there were more than 2,000 systems and applications for 200,000 users that the MoD had found difficulty in replacing, from administrative and back-office IT to military platforms, such as ships and satellites.
To address this issue, MPs said the MoD needed to make a "down payment" on a new way of operating in its digital action plan, expected to be published in April 2023, and make sure its delivery was "realistic and costed".
“The war in Ukraine brutally illustrates why we need advanced digital capabilities now, rather than many years from now," said Mark Francois, former Conservative defence minister and lead PAC member.
“What more will it take for MoD to step up and acknowledge the procurement weaknesses which the PAC has, quite literally, been highlighting for decades now?"
In another PAC report published on Friday, the committee said “significant cultural change” was needed at the MoD if it was to tackle the fact its “processes are set up to procure conventional military equipment rather than software”.
In response, the MoD said it has made "significant progress" in delivering IT projects, and said recent work meant "only one of the six major digital programmes is rated red".
The department's spokesperson added: "Defence Digital's improvement programme is a priority for the department, which is why we're investing over £4bn annually. Maximising digital capabilities and data is fundamental to success in military operations and the committee recognises our strategy has the right priorities for achieving this."
Last October, the MoD announced it was expecting to spend £11.7bn over the next 10 years updating or replacing its digital systems to keep pace with potential adversaries.
However, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the MoD was struggling to recruit and retain the skilled staff it needed – in part, because it could not match the pay on offer in the private sector.
Overall, the British economy is estimated to be losing an astonishing £6.3bn in GDP per year, largely due to a widespread lack of proper digital and computing skills in the workforce, resulting in unfilled jobs.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.