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Ministers are urged to fast-track orders for tanks and planes to replenish Army stock as retired top brass lead appeal amid Budget fears

Ministers must reintroduce a fast-track to buy the extra tanks and aircraft Britain’s hollowed-out armed forces need, senior defence figures said last night.

Retired military commanders and MPs called on the Government to use the ‘urgent operational requirements’ (UOR) process to speed up buying vital equipment.

Their demands came after fears were raised Britain’s shrinking military will get no extra funding in next month’s Budget. Rishi Sunak is under unprecedented pressure to announce a cash injection or risk leaving Britain ‘defenceless’, experts have warned.

The Prime Minister’s continued silence on military spending has ‘unsettled’ senior officers, the Daily Mail revealed yesterday. Their concerns follow a warning by the head of the Army that Britain is ‘weaker’ for giving equipment to Ukraine.

Despite 25 other Nato members rebooting their spending plans following Russia’s invasion, the UK’s armed forces are yet to receive any additional funding.

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Last night, senior figures suggested a kit-buying process used during the Afghan conflict should be brought back.

From 2007 the UOR scheme slashed waiting times for frontline troops, with vehicles and weapons acquired much faster than in peacetime.

These included the Mastiff armoured patrol vehicle, which was brought from concept to delivery in 23 weeks, after the Taliban adopted a tactic of targeting UK patrols in Helmand province with roadside bombs.

But since the end of the Afghanistan conflict the red tape surrounding major equipment purchases has returned.

Tory MP Mark Francois, a member of the Commons defence committee, said yesterday: ‘A number of key re-equipment programmes need to be pushed through as UORs.

‘We should drop the bureaucracy and get critical new kit into service as rapidly as possible.

‘With war raging on the European continent time is not on our side. While we undoubtedly need to spend more on defence, we must also use that additional money more wisely.’

Suggestions for the UOR pipeline include re-equipping 100 of Britain’s Challenger 2 tanks to make them ‘battle-worthy’.

The UK has 227 of these tanks but most are in storage and not held at high readiness. Its replacement, the more advanced Challenger 3 tank, is not expected until 2027 and only 148 are being purchased.

If the upgraded tank was pushed through as a UOR, its delivery could be accelerated, according to sources.

So would a project to replace the UK’s long-range artillery capability and expand the military’s air defence systems.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has accused previous Tory administrations of ‘hollowing out’ the armed forces.

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Last night, Labour also joined calls for more urgency on military procurement.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said it had taken the Government 287 days after the invasion of Ukraine for the UK to agree to replace the N-LAW rocket systems sent to Kyiv.

An MoD spokesman said there are ‘currently no plans to declare any of the systems as Urgent Capability Requirements’.

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