Defence Secretary announces Defence Arctic Strategy at Conservative Party Conference
The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, used the occasion of his speech to the Conservative Party Conference to announce a raft of new initiatives. Most eye-catching was the launch of a new Defence Arctic Strategy, designed to address the increasing opportunities and threats in the region. The strategy is clearly aimed at countering resurgent Russian interests in the Arctic. Mr Williamson said that ‘Russia, with more submarines operating under the ice and ambitions to build over 100 facilities in the Arctic, are staking a claim and militarising the region. We must be ready to deal with all threats as they emerge.’ He also announced that UK will continue to have a military presence in Germany beyond 2020.
Nevertheless, Mr Williamson’s speech was light on detail regarding the Modernising Defence Programme and the future Equipment Plan. He reiterated that this was about designing the right Armed Forces for today’s challenges and outlined investments, such as the Combat Air Strategy, already announced. However, no dates were given as to when publication of the programme can be expected no what the outcome of budget negotiations with the Treasury would be. Mr Williamson did however confirm that the amphibious assault ships, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, would not be withdrawn from service early, despite recent speculation to the contrary.
Defence Ministers meet at NATO
Concluding this week’s meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke of the alliances progress in 2018, stating that ‘this will be the fourth consecutive year of rising defence spending’. In his closing speech, Mr Stoltenberg said he expects individual national plans to evidence year on year increases in defence spending and to plot a realistic path to a spend for each nation equivalent to 2% GDP. Nations who have historically failed to match this commitment have come under increased pressure from the US to step up. High on the agenda were concerns about Russia’s recent aggressive posturing. Ministers were briefed about a foiled Russian military intelligence service cyber operation against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Netherlands. In response, NATO nations collectively committed to strengthening its defence and deterrence in the cyber domain.
Defence Secretary announces negotiations to purchase E-7 Wedgetail
Ahead of the NATO conference, MOD this week announced that is it in discussions with Boeing about the procurement of the E-7 Wedgetail radar aircraft to replace the RAF’s Sentry fleet. Ahead before any investment decision, MOD has been keen to stress that there will be a stringent approvals process to ensure the aircraft meets the military requirement and represents value-for-money. There has been some parliamentary opposition to not pursuing an open competition to fill the requirement, potentially with a UK-sourced solution. Both MOD an Boeing have been keen to stress that UK industry could be involved significantly with the programme, from modification work to through life support. Gavin Williamson said that ‘Wedgetail is the stand-out performer in our pursuit of a new battlespace surveillance aircraft, and has already proved itself in Iraq and Syria…it could be an excellent asset for the RAF and give us a real edge in this increasingly complex world.’