Buying defence equipment

Yesterday in the House the government made a statement on what had gone wrong in trying to buy 589 fighting vehicles for the army. So far very few have been delivered and those that have been  have not met noise and vibration standards. This has raised hearing issues for some who have worked in them.

The Minister and the review are both critical of procedures . The Minister is leading the work to get the matter rectified by the contractor. He assured the House that the contract was at a fixed price of £5.5bn and the government’s intent is to secure the delivery of 589 working vehicles that meet the required standards.

It is most important for the army and taxpayers that he succeeds. There have been too many cases of procurement overruns on time and budget and on the need to remedy or change specifications during the roll out of a programme. Let us hope the MOD can now find new ways to offer value for money and to secure the high quality vehicles,  vessels and other equipment they need.


  1. SM
    December 16, 2021

    A close friend of mine worked, in the early days of computer consultancy, as a government contractor when the Channel Tunnel was being built. He said he was driven to distraction by the constant changing of requirements that emanated from civil servants – I wonder whether the same thing happens to defence contractors?

    1. alan jutson
      December 16, 2021

      Lots of historic information around to suggest multiple changes to specifications on almost every government contract.
      That means the contract was either not thought out properly in the first place, or later interference from those not originally included within the pre contract discussions, who then find out errors at a later stage.
      Then of course we have the “while your at it” experts, who never realise the cost of their wishes and actions.
      Extra’s and Overs are a contractors dream for maximising profit.

      1. SM
        December 16, 2021

        Thank you Alan – you confirm the kind of attitude my friend encountered.

    2. glen cullen
      December 16, 2021

      While we were using XP and Vista operating systems the army was supplied with new field laptops…using windows 3.1 operating system – says it all really…no wonder we can’t even supply proper boots to soldiers

  2. Peter
    December 16, 2021

    It demonstrates that spending public money does not automatically produce benefits and that suppliers can and do fail to deliver.

    I am not convinced government often holds suppliers to account. See the outsourcing of army recruitment for another example.

    Elsewhere, NHS test and trace has been a monumental waste of money. Good for the chumocracy and those with links to government though,

    1. Ian Wragg
      December 16, 2021

      Buying something tried and tested would be good.
      Normally before spending such huge amounts of money a prototype would be built.
      The same thing happened with the Daring class destroyers, a propulsion system that didn’t work above 30 degrees.
      The MOD never learn after all, no one is ever sacked and it’s public money.

  3. Nig l
    December 16, 2021

    MOD senior management have concluded that the worse thing that can happen to them is an ear bashing from Meg Hilliers committee. It reported that over tens of years umpteen billions has been wasted and despite many enquiries, no lessons have been learnt.

    Why are you accepting such a meaningless answer and not asking the key questions, like have those responsible been moved on, is it now fit for purpose. Why is a Minister having to sort it?

    You are frightened of and unable to sort out the Blob and they know it.

    Reply An MP only gets one question

    1. Narrow Shoulders
      December 16, 2021

      Question on reply – how many written questions may an MP submit Sir John?

      Reply A reasonable number but you cannot ask the same thing twice because you do not think the first time evoked a decent answer.

      1. Mike Wilson
        December 16, 2021

        A reasonable number but you cannot ask the same thing twice because you do not think the first time evoked a decent answer.

        Surely you could get round that by you asking a question and, when you are fobbed off, another MP asking a question about the answer you were given etc.

      2. Dennis
        December 17, 2021

        Can’t ask the same question again? – the police can do so when questioning a suspect and ministers are suspects. This procedure negates holding any minister to account – no wonder they have this system – what a farce!

    2. alan jutson
      December 16, 2021

      Reply – reply
      If that is the case then John either that needs to be changed, or a group of you need to get together to ask a single follow up question each until you get a proper answer.

      The rule of one question each means you can just be fobbed off at will, and clearly that is happening time and time again as you have recently outlined with you posting the recent responses you have had to a number of questions.

      1. SM
        December 16, 2021


  4. Iain Gill
    December 16, 2021

    There are problems in the MOD and its contractors. The way they both hire, both perm & freelance, ex military personnel simply because they are a “friend of a friend”, member of the old boys network, were in the same regiment, and so on. Far too often people with completely the wrong skillsets are hired simply because of these connections. The old hierarchical ranks of the military persist long after they have left the military, and people end up in charge simply because they were more senior officers ten or more years ago. We have nonsense like ex special forces officers, ex artillary officers, running software programmes for which they are entirely unqualified for, worse than that their supposed “leadership ability” is laughably missing when it comes to motivating young bright computer science graduates who know more about the subjects in question than they do. We have a bureaucratic procurement process, which puts lots of hoops to be jumped through in the way, but rarely puts a fresh set of eyes WITH THE CORRECT SKILLS to look over and check whatever is being doing makes sense and that the risks are appropriately mitigated. We had a brief spell when Dom Cummings was trying to change the focus to space and tech, which again led to a lot of entirely inappropriate military officers being put in charge of things they knew little about. We have run the size of the infantry down far too low. Procurement is a mess, and we do not allow them to fail early, fail small, and properly innovate. Out approach compared to the Americans, Australians and others when it comes to large fundamental projects is completely different. We still have class based attitudes throughout defence projects, so much so that bright people with working class accents often avoid them as they know the hassle they will suffer. We dont have proper accounabiliy. We have 3 year postings for military officers assigned to programmes, be they procurement or delivery, so only the senior non commissioned officers stay in one place long term and become the real experts (in so far as the military has any). We are subcontracting significant stuff to countries and nationals from countries we cannot rely upon to be friendly. The whole security clearance process is a mess, and acts to reduce the ability to bring in skills from outside of the defence world due to the sheer amount of time and hassle it takes to clear anyone. The way the big defence contractors “own” an individuals clearance, rather than the individual themselves, acts to reduce normal workforce mobility. And so much more. We have changing fashions from central govt & civil service, one week to do big outsourcing/procurement deals where one big subcontractor holds responsibility for the big picture, to “must contact lots of small independent businesses” where the MOD itself needs to be the system integrator (which it is not capable of doing). In lots of ways things are held together despite not because of the leadership. We could do a lot better. I dont see any political voice who has any idea how to sort out the mess and make it more efficient.

  5. Nig l
    December 16, 2021

    You fail to mention ordered in 2014. The Government has already handed over £3.2 billion for nothing.

    Do you not think a field trial assessment prior to purchase might have spotted that it cannot fire on the move, pretty useless for a tank plus all the other defects?

    I expect to read the company has delivered on the spec as ordered and we will hand over more billions for a rework.

    In the meantime Putin is quaking in his boots!

    1. Dennis
      December 17, 2021

      Now that Australia will get their new submarines in 2040 China has a few years to attack before that which would be the sensible thing to do, if they wanted to do that which I doubt very much.

  6. Sharon
    December 16, 2021

    I’m sure we all have friends who we look on and think their money handing has a bit to be desired. The sort who thinks they’ve got a fantastic price for something, but the quality of the purchase is poor.

    That’s our government – not good with money!

    They economise on the basics and are extravagant on trivial and unnecessary things.

  7. Donna
    December 16, 2021

    Failing after failing reported – across Whitehall and the wider public sector – and nothing is ever done to discipline or punish those responsible let alone to stop it happening again.

    As Nig1 said “You (ie your Party/Government are frightened of, and unable to sort out the Blob, and they know it.”

  8. Andy
    December 16, 2021

    There’s an interesting study out today by Sir John Curtice – the polling bloke – who tells us pretty much everybody hates Brexit. With Brexitists hating it as much as Remainers.

    I admit I rather enjoy Brexit. It really is entertaining watching the Brexitists crash and burn. I read the transcript of an interesting evidence session to the House of Lords about music and the arts post Brexit. It was completely damning about the Brexitists failure to deal with issues like visas for touring musicians and their crews, cabotage, carnets and the likes.

    One of those asking questions was Brexitists Norman Lamont. He desperately tried to pretend Brexit was okay but faced with actual people who have seen their industries crash and burn as a result of his Brexit he crumpled.

    I would urge you all to read it. None of you voted leave to destroy the careers of professional musicians, stage hands, sound engineers and the like. But that is precisely what you have done.

    1. Original Richard
      December 16, 2021

      Andy : “But that is precisely what you have done.”


      Our sub optimal exit from the EU was entirely caused by our undemocratic Remainer Parliament electing a Remainer PM and employing Britphobic civil service negotiators who wanted to negotiate a treaty as similar to EU membership as possible whilst conspiring with the EU to make the UK negotiating position as weak as possible.

      So such situations as you describe were the inevitable result and were deliberate.

      BTW, the EU could easily make the necessary changes if they so wished……

    2. No Longer Anonymous
      December 16, 2021

      Indeed, young Andy.

      Our decision to join the EU in 1973 has torn this country assunder.

      1. Nottingham Lad Himself
        December 17, 2021

        That’s rather like saying that the country’s decision to have mains electricity to most households has led to completely unacceptable power cuts.

  9. Sakara Gold
    December 16, 2021

    The MoD is a bottomless pit into which the taxpayer pours billions of money. No Minister in living memory has been able to reform their procurement procedures. The end result is that to pay for their endless mismanagement and cock-ups, savage cuts in capability are necessary – we are currently building escort frigates without anti-ship missiles to defend themselves. The Russians must be laughing at us.

    None of the civil servants or senior “gravy train” ex military officers involved suffer consequences. Does this sound familiar?

  10. Narrow Shoulders
    December 16, 2021

    Another demonstration of the lack of respect given to other people’s money.

    I doubt that the MOD intended to purchase defective equipment but I will wager that the performance targets (on which bonuses are paid and rises in the pay spine achieved) deemed getting the contract signed more important than the delivery of the right equipment.

    I would have thought a £5.5 billion budget bought a lot of weight in negotiations but no doubt our civil service managed to throw any advantage away, just as they did when leaving the EU.

    How many civil service heads have rolled this year as a result of poor performance Sir John?

    1. Narrow Shoulders
      December 16, 2021

      Off topic but similar theme – why are we paying over £25 per vaccine when Astra Zeneca is just £2.50 and works. There are lower storage costs for Astra Zeneca too.

      It’s only someone else’s money though!

      1. Dennis
        December 17, 2021

        Has there been any Govt. information on why Ivermectin is banned from use when there is much evidence that it works in early symptoms for many and if it doesn’t work for some there are no side effects and it is dirt cheap. No blood clots etc. happen and keeps many out of hospital. The next scandal to come out?

  11. The Prangwizard
    December 16, 2021

    Sir John, why no mention of where they are made and who by and where are the materials sourced?

    There is no hope for this country’s future prosperity, security or advancement until people speak plainly. When things go wrong we never hear who made the decisions or who made tbe mistakes – responsibility is always hidden.

  12. margaret
    December 16, 2021

    I voted for Brexit because it was said that we could control our own borders. We have millions of people with paper qualifications which the UK had to accept as being on a Par to British standards . We soon found out that standards rapidly declined .We were fooled into believing that there were not enough British staff to cover our needs whilst our own home grown lost our jobs. The reports of needing overseas staff was political .

    I voted for Brexit as we have a population explosion and our services are overstretched but the” choose to be blind to the position,” nasty people can’t think of a resolution and want free borders for others to wander in and out of the country and what is more for our ageing population to pay in the taxes and national insurance they have paid with all their lives for the selfishness of others.

    I care about GB and the European mismanagement over the last 30 yrs has caused the decline of my lovely countries. Yes we will fight against the nasties, the rude , the ill mannered , those who want to ruin certain sects of people, those ageist fools and we will maintain British civility whilst we are here and future generations will know that we are not a blame culture; we are civil pragmatists.

  13. BOF
    December 16, 2021

    Failure after failure throughout the public sector but nothing ever changes with billions constantly falling down the various black holes of public spending.
    MOD. Is there a project they don’t waste money on?
    Dodgy French nuclear power plants.
    NHS and following sub species:
    Lockdown (including paying people not to work!)
    Test and Trace.
    Vaccines still not completed trialing.
    Face masks. No firm evidence that they work.
    Importing illegals.
    I am sure other contributors can add to that.

    1. Micky Taking
      December 16, 2021

      House of Commons repair estimate £12bn…..think about that for a minute.

      Cost £414m , housing 129 MSPs and more than 1,000 staff and civil servants ( all in luxury)
      H of C – factor of 5.
      £414m * 5 = £ 2070m. Not £12bn.

  14. glen cullen
    December 16, 2021

    The 589 AJAX fighting vehicles were designed to fulfil the needs of Afghanistan, accountants and lawyers and isn’t a direct replacement for the current fighting or patrol vehicles – the 7 new vehicles introduced during the past decade where developed for one role in Afghanistan and purchased at extremely high cost.
    Why are we still buying vehicles designed for non-conflicts aboard while down sizing our number of soldiers

    1. alan jutson
      December 16, 2021

      It does not help either when OUR rules of engagement suggest we must wait to be shot at first, before we return fire.
      Does not matter what you have as equipment when you cannot use it first.

      1. Paul Cuthbertson
        December 17, 2021

        The government in this day are keen to throw the military into conflicts and then do not support them. They are keen to vilify individuals/units who may have strayed away from etiquette. When in battle,highly volatile evolve and stresses and tensions are high and individuals react differently.
        No one in this government and many governments before have served in the military. There again with the Common Purpose BS being promoted I am surprised we still have a military.

  15. Original Richard
    December 16, 2021

    Will all our military equipment need to be CO2 emission free by 2050?

  16. Nottingham Lad Himself
    December 16, 2021

    Doesn’t exactly leave this country’s enemies trembling in their boots, does it?

    What a shambles of a government.

  17. formula57
    December 16, 2021

    Whilst true that “It is most important for the army and taxpayers that he succeeds.” let us hope success comes slowly, thereby to thwart the adventurism that sees Ben Wallace’s “Future Soldier” programme intend to deploy hundreds of tanks and fighting vehicles to Germany to engage in pulling the Evil Empire’s chestnuts out of the fire as and when.

    (Was not Edward Heath’s government keen on better defence procurement systems too? There really is nothing new under the Sun.)

  18. X-Tory
    December 16, 2021

    Ministers cannot exculpate themselves for the Ajax disater:
    It was a ministerial, policy decision to buy this vehicle from a US company that part-manufactures in Spain. How the hell does British industry or British scientific and engineering know-how benefit from Spanish manufacturing? Buying military equipment from abroad is TREASON.
    Secondly, the total value of this contract is £6.3 bn, and of that £3.75 bn has ALREADY being paid out! WHY??? Why have we paid a penny when we haven’t yet received something that works? This is an absolute effing outrage.
    Thirdly, the minister admitted that “It remains impossible to share with this house 100% confidence that this programme will succeed” – if it does not, will the government get their £3.75 bn back? It is imperative that the minister be challenged on this.
    And finally, why, in the name of God, has the MoD’s head of defence equipment and support – Sir Simon Bollom – been paid performance-related BONUSES of £120,000 since 2018??? This is the man who was responsible for this contract (and all the others that are behind schedule). He has clearly been a complete FAILURE, and yet ministers have allowed him to be paid bonuses! This is madness off the scale.

    1. Dennis
      December 17, 2021

      X-Tory – good points on which JR has no comment. If he cannot say anything nothing will be examined. Oh yes he can only ask one question and no one else thinks of doing so it seems. MPs know that to ask a question is pointless so why bother.

    2. anon
      December 17, 2021

      Look it a different way. Perhaps view it as a way to make a large off the books contribution to the EU. It makes more sense that way.

  19. Micky Taking
    December 16, 2021

    and what about the £millions spent on the fighting ship (I will not guess on what type it is) moored alongside the aircraft carrier Prince of Wales? I suspect it has never moved since arrival.
    The budget left provided the opportunity to buy ‘something’ so there it is.

    1. Paul Cuthbertson
      December 17, 2021

      We build naval ships now with means to change an engine

  20. forthurst
    December 16, 2021

    The most important role of the MOD is the procurement of equipment yet there is no senior role for a mechanical engineer. Is this because the civil service doesn’t do engineering? It’s presumably well versed in Greek mythology hence the Ajax, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Atlas and Argus vehicle variants.
    What is very clear is that the Ajax vehicle was handed over to the Army for trialing prematurely.
    Where were the basic specifications for the vehicle against which the Army would be prepared to commence Acceptance Testing? There couldn’t have been any if the reports of the performance of this vehicle are correct. What about the detailed specifications of all the weapons and detection systems? Was any research performed concerning the weapons systems which might be deployed against it?
    It is also a matter of concern that only one British company was capable of bidding as main contractor and that the contract went to a foreign company intent on manufacturing abroad; how does this work in wartime if the lunatics driving US foreign policy trigger a war with Russia?

    The foreign takeover of British defence manufacturing and the consolidation of so many different technological capabilties in one British defence manufacturer leave the Tory Party able to boast how much they spend on defence and not much else.

  21. Paul Cuthbertson
    December 17, 2021

    Government involvement with purchasing anything is a disaster and will lead to a not fit for purpose scenario. The mention of a fixed price necessitates an absolute need to know EXACTLY what you want. The first change and there always changes, the fixed price has gone out of the window.

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