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04/04/2019

WESTMINSTER NEWS

U.K. Foreign Secretary Defends Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

In an opinion piece for Politico published on 26 March, Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, argued against suspending UK defence sales to Saudi Arabia. Responding to criticism over the use of British made weapons by Saudi forces operating in Yemen, Mr Hunt said that is was precisely because of the UK’s strategic relationships in the Middle East that we have the opportunity to influence their leaders. Halting exports and severing diplomatic ties would ‘surrender our influence and make ourselves irrelevant to the course of events in Yemen.’ As a result, the UK policy would be ‘to leave the parties to fight it out, while denouncing them impotently from the sidelines.’ Pressure on the UK to revise its policy follows decisions from other European governments to suspend defence sales to participants in the conflict. Most notably, Germany has placed a temporary bar on exports to Saudi Arabia until at least the end of March, at least. Nevertheless, France and the US, the biggest defence suppliers to Saudi Arabia alongside the UK, remain consistent with UK policy.

MOD sign contract for next-generation airborne early warning capability

The MOD announced on 22 March that it has signed a contract with Boeing to provide the RAF with five E-7 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft. The $1.98 billion deal will see the new aircraft replace the RAF’s fleet of E-3 Sentry at an as yet undisclosed date in the ‘early 2020s’. The E-7, already in service with the Australian, South Korean and Turkish air forces, is based on a standard Boeing 737 airliner modified to carry a sophisticated Northrop Grumman active electronically-scanned radar. This can cover four million square kilometres over a 10-hour period. Modification of the aircraft will be carried out in the UK at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge, sustaining over 200 jobs. In making the announcement MOD said there are also likely to be opportunities for British suppliers to be involved in future training and support arrangements.

£2.5m injection for drone swarms                     

The MOD’s Defence and Security Accelerator this week awarded £2.5m to a consortium led by Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd to develop drone swarm technology. The largest single contract awarded by DASA to date, the funding will support 20 different drone concepts into the final stage of development, with the ability to employ a swarm of these systems to operate collaboratively the common goal. The intent is to show that a swarm could support lower operating costs, greater system efficiency as well as increased operational resilience. Blue Bear Systems will act as the consortia lead and system integrator, with IQHQ, Plextex, Airbus and the University of Durham as part of the contracted team. Each organisation brings a crucial technology and skill set to the team in this 18-month ‘integration concept evaluation’ phase which will culminate in live flight demonstrations to the military.

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

SINGLE SOURCE PROCUREMENT: Asked what the underlying factors were behind the Single Source Regulations Office recommendation for a rise in the baseline profit rate for single source defence contracts to 7.63%, Defence Procurement Minister Stuart Andrew replied that ‘[MOD] decided to set the 2019-20 Baseline Profit Rate (BPR) in line with the Single Source Regulations Office's (SSRO) recommendation. The SSRO methodology for calculating the rate has not changed significantly since last year. It is published on the SSRO's website alongside a question and answer briefing, information fact sheets on its methodology, and detailed supporting analysis.The BPR is an average of the actual profit rates earned by companies whose activities are comparable to companies that contribute to the delivery of Ministry of Defence single source contracts. The SSRO's assessment is that the increase this year is mainly caused by changes in the performance of companies that make up the comparator groups, reflecting changing economic conditions.

DEFENCE INNOVATION: Asked what assessment he has made of the potential merits of using new and developing technologies to support the UK’s defence capability, Mr Andrew answered that ‘Our Armed Forces already use some of the most advanced military technologies in the world, and are taking steps to enhance our ability to acquire and exploit the very best to ensure we retain our strategic military advantage. This includes investment to develop innovative new military capabilities through the Transformation Fund and 'Spearhead' programmes. Later this year, we will publish a new Defence Technology Framework, setting out key emerging technologies that are priorities for Defence now and in the future.’

LITTORAL STRIKE CAPABILITY: Asked when he expects to place an order for littoral strike vessels; how much he expects each vessel to cost; and when he expects those vessels to be operational, Mr Andrew replied that ‘We will use the Transformation Fund to develop a concept for a Littoral Strike Ship. Estimates of the potential acquisition costs of this capability will be established during the initial concept phase. At this time, no decisions have been made regarding procurement strategy, in service dates, basing or manning levels.’

ARMOURED FIGHTING VEHICLE CAPBILITY: Asked what assessment they have made of the impact of cuts to the defence budget on projects to upgrade armoured vehicles in the UK armed forces, Defence Minister for the Lords, Earl Howe replied that ‘The Government is committed to increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year of this Parliament. The MOD has a £38 billion core defence budget which will rise to almost £40 billion by 2020/21. Following the October 2018 budget announcement Defence will now benefit from an additional £1 billion for this year and next. The extra £1 billion for defence, on top of the £800 million increase announced in March 2018, represents a substantial financial boost for Defence and reaffirms our commitment to protecting national security and allows us to invest in priorities. We will maintain the overall size of the Armed Forces, including an Army that is capable of fielding a war-fighting division. We are committed to spending over £186 billion on equipment and equipment support between 2018 and 2028. Army Command plan to spend around £30.2 billion on the Army's Equipment over the next decade in comparison to £29 billion at the end of the previous planning cycle. This includes upgrading our Armoured Vehicles.’

OTHER NEWS

First Ajax reconnaissance variant to begin British Army trials by September (Jane’s 360)

EU to shift more Galileo assets away from UK territory (Jane’s 360) 

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