Returning the UK’s stockpile of weapons to pre-Ukraine war levels could take years, the head of the armed forces has said.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who took over as Chief of the Defence Staff in November 2021, said even replacing less sophisticated weapons sent to Ukraine could take “several years” due to constraints on the UK’s industrial capacity.
Answering questions from the Lords International Relations and Defence Committee on Wednesday, Admiral Radakin also said it could take “five to 10 years” before the UK could deploy a division with the capabilities to fight alongside US forces.
He said: “We could throw out a division now, but it’s not the one we would want.”
The UK has provided a wide range of weapons to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February, including anti-tank rocket launchers, armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft systems and Brimstone missiles.
But replacing those weapons has become a concern for some in Parliament.
On June 16, the former head of the Royal Navy Lord West described the UK’s weapons stockpiles as “insufficient” and called for the country to start producing weapons “almost on a 24/7 basis”.
On Wednesday, Admiral Radakin acknowledged that the “rate of expenditure” of weapons in Ukraine and the “industrial capacity to backfill” had already become “a significant issue”.
Increased demand for weapons, both in the UK and Europe, along with Britain’s decline in industrial capacity over recent decades and current supply chain problems have added to those issues.
Admiral Radakin said the Government needed to work with defence suppliers, and had already invited 12 leading companies to Downing Street for talks.
But he added: “We are then talking in years, because you cannot whistle up with modern weapons a quick production line.
“Yes, you can churn out shells and artillery, but even at the not super-sophisticated end, even at the modest end of an NLAW (anti-tank) weapon, then that’s going to take several years to get back to our original stocks.”
Asked by former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Campbell whether the UK could deploy a full division, Admiral Radakin said it was possible but the armed forces were “regrowing” its ability to return to “a much more orthodox divisional strength” including longer-range weapons and modern vehicles.
He said: “We can put out a division, but the division that we want to put out is a much better one in sort of five to 10 years’ time, with the capabilities that America would want fighting alongside America.”