Defence Secretary hosts German counterpart in London
The Defence Secretary hosted his German counterpart, Ursula Von der Leyen, in London this week for bilateral discussions about strengthening defence ties. While the closeness of the alliance was emphasised, there was little in the way of new announcements on equipment cooperation. Having announced last week that a new UK Combat Air Strategy would be developed, the Defence Secretary would have been briefed on developments this week in Berlin on plans for the Luftwaffe’s replacement for Tornado. The German Defence Ministry said that competition would retain aircraft expertise in Europe and continue use of a proven system by expanding the Eurofighter Typhoon programme, despite earlier indications that F-35 would be selected. The implications of such a decision on the Franco-German alliance to explore the development of a next-generation European combat jet platform are unknown, but whether the UK might have a role in this is likely to be at the heart of the Combat Air Strategy.
Defence chief warns on military spending
General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, told The Times in an interview this week that the UK must spend more on defence or risk defeat in future confrontations. Specifically, investment was needed in new technologies to counter the growing range of threats being developed by states such as Russia. He told The Times that ‘defence affordability is not something we should shy away from…We should be making the case for a bigger defence budget in order to respond to those types of threats that are changing all the time.’ Gen Messenger also warned that, in future, winning the information war – the importance of using data to help defeat and destroy the enemy – would be critical to military success and was something the UK armed forces needed to quickly come to terms with.
With MOD facing a budget shortfall estimated by The Times at £20Bn-£30Bn over the next decade, the message is understood to have been endorsed by the Defence Secretary as the latest in a series of interventions to secure a budget uplift for defence from the Chancellor as part of the ongoing defence review. With public opinion though to be key, Gen Messenger signalled that people needed to understand that their security was not guaranteed. Warnings this week from President Putin that Russia’s next generation of nuclear weapons will be ‘invincible’ will serve to play to the same narrative. Speaking in Parliament on Monday, the Chancellor said that he will ensure defence has the funding it needs to continue to defend this country appropriately.
MOD releases annual statistics on regional expenditure with UK industry
On 1 March, MOD published official statistics on departmental expenditure with UK industry and commerce in 2016/17. The headline figure was a total spend of £18.7Bn, a decrease of 0.4% from the year before. This itself had represented an annual decrease of 2.1% on 2014/15. Overall, expenditure in 2016/17 supported 123,000 jobs across the country, up from 121,150 in 2015/16. The headline spend equated to £280 for each person living in the UK. Broken down regionally, the highest expenditure per person was seen in the South West at £920, supporting 1 in every 60 jobs in that region. By sector, the largest level of expenditure was on technical, financial services & other business services, followed by shipbuilding and repairing, and aircraft and spacecraft. The official statistics can be accessed here.
During Treasury Questions on Monday, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond was asked whether he has agreed with the Defence Secretary that there will be no further reductions in capability while the modernising defence review takes place, and the money required to do that - in the region of £2 billion - will be forthcoming? Mr Hammond replied that he ‘understood how complex and challenging managing the defence budget was’ given his previous experience as defence secretary, adding that ‘The Prime Minister and myself are working very closely with (Mr Williamson) as he carries out the modernisation review and we will ensure defence has the funding it needs to continue to defend this country appropriately.’
Asked when MOD intends to launch the consultation with industry promised in the MOD’s refreshed Defence Industrial Policy 2017, Mr Bebb replied that MOD is ‘already engaging with industry on the development of proportionate and relevant measures of sustainable social and economic value. This is being done through direct engagement in the Defence Suppliers Forum and the Defence Growth Partnership, as well as in the context of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the recently announced Combat Air Strategy. We expect this to be a continuing process of engagement and we will broaden our consultation with companies of all sizes as this work takes further shape.’
Asked whether MOD has produced estimates of the difference in cost per ship if long-lead items had been ordered for all eight Type 26 Frigates, rather than for an initial batch of three, the Minister replying, Earl Howe, said that the MOD ‘undertook a series of cost modelling options to inform the decision to order the ships in two batches, and this included the purchase of long-lead items. We concluded that any small benefit that might accrue from buying long-lead items for all eight ships would be offset by the risk of the items becoming obsolete before the start of the programme for the second batch of ships.’