Modern warfare is “accelerating away” from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) due to its failure to overhaul technological and IT systems, MPs have said.
A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee found the department had been “struggling for years” to deliver upgrades, some of them needed for use by UK warships and satellites.
Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said the delays meant some projects were in danger “of being obsolescent on delivery”.
Two vital systems have been deemed “unachievable” by the oversight body, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, MPs said.
PAC is calling for a fundamental change in the way the MoD administers technological upgrades, calling the failures to deliver “worrying”.
Labour MP Dame Meg said: “The MoD as it currently operates is frankly not up to the task it faces.
“The scale and nature of the challenge of modern warfare is accelerating away from the Ministry, while it’s bogged down in critical projects that are years delayed and at risk of being obsolescent on delivery.
“Two of its major digital transformation projects have been written off as ‘unachievable’ by the oversight body.
“There is no world in which that is an acceptable situation at the heart of our national defence.”
The MoD said it has made “significant progress” in delivering IT projects.
Former Conservative defence minister Mark Francois and lead PAC member said: “The war in Ukraine brutally illustrates why we need advanced digital capabilities now, rather than many years from now.
“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?
“The time for the usual MoD platitudes is over – we now need to see MoD radically reform its procedures, to provide equipment – including crucial digital systems – in a timely and cost-effective manner, before it’s too late.”
In PAC’s The Defence Digital Strategy 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”.
The committee said there were more than 2,000 systems and applications for 200,000 users that the MoD had found difficulty in replacing.
They range from administrative and back-office IT to military platforms such as ships and satellites – much of it outdated legacy systems, according to the 23-page document.
MPs said the rapid deployment of new technology was “now at the very heart of the defence of the realm, with the urgency of this challenge demonstrated by the current conflict in Ukraine”.
But they said the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, of the defence IT projects large and critical enough to have their performance reported, found three had significant issues and two – the New Style IT Base and MODNet Evolve – were assessed as “unachievable”.
The committee said the department faces a “considerable challenge” to recruit the digital specialist its strategy relies on.
In the face of the MoD likely to find it difficult to compete in the market on pay and waiting times of more than 200 days on average for security vetting for new recruits, MPs said the department’s target of doubling its recent recruitment of 150 specialists would be “difficult to achieve”.
The report called on the MoD to make a “down payment” on a new way of operating in its digital action plan, which is expected in April 2023.
They said urgency and a “realistic and costed programme” for delivering the plan should be provided alongside it.
An MoD spokesman said: “Defence Digital’s improvement programme is a priority for the department, which is why we’re investing over £4 billion annually.
“We have made significant progress in delivering our IT projects, and following work in recent months only one of the six major Digital programmes is rated red.
“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.”