On Thursday, the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson MP, announced that he had commissioned a new programme of work to modernise UK defence. This confirms recent speculation that the high-level findings of the National Security Capability Review (NSCR), conducted by the National Security Council over the past six months, has concluded that its defence component should be taken forward separately. In what is being seen as a victory for Mr Williamson, the review seek to deliver better military capability, more efficiently, to meet the threats that the NSCR has identified. Divided into four strands of work, the first three will optimise how the MOD is organised and operates, including further efficiencies through an ‘aggressive’ programme of business modernisation, and improved commercial and industrial performance. The fourth strand will consider the capabilities the Armed Forces need to meet the UK’s three national security objectives.
In making his statement, Mr Williamson reconfirmed the Government’s broad commitment to delivering the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, including defence making a bigger contribution to national prosperity. Nevertheless, Mr Williamson warned that, while major elements of that plan remain, in order to secure competitive advantage over our potential adversaries MOD will need to both strengthen capabilities in priority areas and reduce resources elsewhere. Encouragingly, in a positive indication that the overall defence budget could be boosted if the review determined such necessity, Mr Williamson explicitly stated that implementation of the review will not necessarily need to be fiscally neutral and that he was prepared to ask the Treasury for more money. Also promising a process of consultation as part of the programme, EEF and NDI will be seeking to contribute on behalf of UK industry. Though no date for publication was guaranteed, the ambition to publish before Parliament rises for the summer recess in July was stated. The NSCR itself will be published later this spring.
Responding to Mr Williamson’s statement, Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffiths MP, warned that the review must not simply be an excuse to avoid difficult decisions facing the defence budget, given recent speculation about swinging cuts on the horizon. Speaking from a uniquely privileged position, Sir Michael Fallon MP, himself the Defence Secretary until November last year, tellingly warned the house that ‘the words used here are interesting and important, but what really matters in the end is money—more money.’
Defence Secretary warns of threat from Russia
In an interview no doubt timed to add weight and urgency to the announcement of his Defence Modernisation Programme, Mr Williamson told the Telegraph on Friday that Russia could cause ‘thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths’ by crippling UK infrastructure. Warning of the potential for ‘total chaos’ across the country, Mr Williamson expressed his belief that this was the real threat the country faces at the moment. Concerns have been growing that Russia has been researching the UK’s undersea energy supplies and communications connections and would be willing to take action that no other nation would consider acceptable. Mr Williamson told the paper ‘the plan for the Russians [will be] how can we just cause so much pain to Britain? Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country.’
Mr Williamson’s interview followed on the back of speeches this week from both the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter and chief of the National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, who both warned about the Russia threat. In a widely covered speech at the Royal United Services Institute, General Carter warned that the UK armed forces were struggling to keep up with Russian capabilities and that the UK must prepare for a ‘fight’. Meanwhile, Mr Martin warned that Russia had already staged cyber-attacks against Britain's media, telecommunications and energy sectors over the past year.
Asked what internal guidance his Department has on engaging potential SME suppliers, Mr Bebb replied that MOD’s Acquisition System Guidance contains significant guidance and examples of good practice on how to engage effectively with SMEs. This guidance is reinforced with specific SME content on internal training courses and through periodic coverage in internal newsletters and other publications.
Asked what the budget is for the MOD’s Single Supplier Portal and how many people are employed to staff it, Mr Bebb replied that it is delivered by a service provider as part of a concession contract. The content of the portal is maintained by the MOD’s Supply Chain Development team, consisting of four people, as part of its wider remit to provide supplier outreach activities.
Asked, with reference to the National Shipbuilding Strategy, what the evidential basis is for MOD’s decision to set the objective of exporting 40 Type 31e frigates, the Minister for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb MP, said that no Departmental objective has been set for the export of 40 Type 31e frigates, only that there is a potential light frigate market of around 40 ships over the next 10 years. On a second question relating to the Type 31e procurement process, MOD had concluded that that there was a competitive domestic market and, therefore, the use of competition was appropriate as a means of driving innovation and industrial performance and providing value for money for the taxpayer.
In relation to the forthcoming Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme, MOD was asked whether discussions had been held with the German ministry of defence, or with the companies; General Dynamics, Rheinmetall, Nexter and Patria. Mr Bebb could only reply that regular discussions are held with international colleagues and industry executives on a number of topics.
Asked what the delivery time-frame is for the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle as part of MOD’s Multi Role Vehicle Protected Group 1 requirement, Mr Bebb said that was still going through the approvals process, and is not yet on contract. Therefore there is no fixed time frame for its delivery.
Asked whether MOD plans to procure a single family fleet of light protected mobility platforms for the armed forces, Mr Bebb stated that the Army seeks to maintain an optimum combination of light protected mobility platforms, taking into consideration operational requirements and value for money. No single fleet would be able to meet all of the Ministry of Defence's requirements. Mr Bebb also reconfirmed that the Ministry of Defence plans to procure 589 AJAX vehicles, which will be rolled out across the Armoured Infantry and new Strike Brigades.
In relation to the Trident Renewal Programme, asked whether the Re-entry Systems Options project has concluded its work, Mr Bebb said MOD had spent £100.7 million on studies to inform the decision on whether to refurbish or replace the existing warhead. This figure consists of £93.7 million on technology studies to support refurbishment of the current system and explore options for a potential future warhead and £7 million on studies to support the decision whether to refurbish or replace the existing warhead. Studies related to Re-entry Systems Options to determine the best approach to be taken are continuing.