The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has defended its 10-year equipment plan.
It follows four consecutive years of criticism from the National Audit Office, which has deemed it unaffordable.
Defence is a costly business, especially as big-ticket items like the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, Protector drones and Astute-class submarines have come in hugely over budget.
The MOD’s annual equipment plan shows the department’s intended investment in projects for the next decade.
The Public Accounts Committee has grilled MOD officials on the plan.
Last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £16.5bn investment in defence over four years.
MOD Permanent Secretary Sir Stephen Lovegrove said: “There is no question that this is not £16.5bn which is being poured onto an already-balanced budget and therefore it is all going to go on new and revolutionary kit. I mean, that is simply not going to happen.
“Some of it will have to go to dealing with the problems that we face.”
However, he said, in the process of the Integrated Review, ministers will be able to take decisions on capability enhancements, and reductions in some areas, which will go “a very, very long way to getting this budget back into balance in any event”.
The mention of reductions led to questions about where and when they would come. Sir Stephen Lovegrove said he was “not in a position” at this stage to be able to outline exactly the shape of such cuts.
Could it impact personnel numbers? MPs also wanted to know how long it would be until the UK fulfils plans to have 138 F-35B fighter aircraft.
Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, MOD, Air Marshal Richard Knighton said 48 F-35Bs are on order, to be delivered by 2025, but said “we acknowledge that we need to increase that number”. He added that work is being done with ministers on plans.
“I wouldn’t want to get out in front of ministers and pre-empt ministerial decisions, but as we’ve said before, our expectation is that we will buy more F-35s in the second half of the next decade,” he added.
There were numerous questions about capability enhancements and reductions which could not be answered.
The MOD appears hampered by the forthcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.