Battle Tanks

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th December 2016.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee 12:00 am, 12th December 2016

For what reasons his Department plans to reduce the Army’s number of main battle tanks.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The strategic defence and security review 2015 committed us to a more adaptive force to meet the range of future threats. This means having the best mix of Challenger 2 tanks and the new Ajax multi-purpose armoured vehicles to deliver the Army’s contribution to future threats. We are planning to spend £700 million to extend the Challenger 2 capability out to 2035.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee

I thank the Minister for that answer. While we should warmly welcome the very large order for Ajax fighting vehicles, does he accept that these will be no match for the armour and the armament of enemy main battle tanks? Will he therefore confirm how many of our existing 227 tanks will go forward to the Challenger 2 life extension programme, bearing in mind the need to have capacity for regeneration in the event of a crisis?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My right hon. Friend is the Chair of the Defence Committee and has taken a keen interest in defence matters for so many years. He knows very well that it is for the military to decide exactly what the capabilities are, but having £700 million available for Challenger 2 going forward to 2035 shows a clear commitment to Challenger.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

While I support having a diversity of vehicles available, there are reports that the Army is planning to reduce its number of tanks by a third. At a time when Russia has announced a new generation of vehicles, ours will reduce from 227 to 170. Does the Minister agree that now is not the right time for this sort of announcement to be made, because it sends out completely the wrong message about our defence?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We should not believe everything we read in the press—as a former journalist, I might have written it in the past. We need to trust the armed forces to tell us exactly what they want. The Russian Armata tank, which I think is what the hon. Gentleman is alluding to, is an unmanned vehicle. We are making sure that innovation and adaptation is there. I would have thought that we would hear more cheers from Labour Members, particularly those in Wales, about the fact that the Ajax vehicle is going to be built in Wales.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement)

The Minister mentions the Ajax vehicle. When David Cameron was Prime Minister, he announced that the new Ajax fighting vehicle would be a “boost for British manufacturing”. While I welcome the fact that many of the vehicles will be assembled in Merthyr Tydfil, they are being built using Swedish steel and will have their hulls built in Spain—and some are to be completely built in Spain. Does the Minister accept that Mr David Cameron was somewhat inaccurate in his statement?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

No, I do not think so. The issue is about jobs in Wales, which are coming to Merthyr Tydfil, and making sure that the Army has the vehicle it wants. That is what this Government are going to guarantee. Unless the Labour party commits to spending 2% of GDP on defence, they are never going to reach this sort of expenditure.