Government provides update on Modernising Defence Program
Last Thursday, the Ministry of Defence provided an update on progress toward completing the Modernising Defence Program (MDP). Having missed its deadline to complete the review in advance of last week’s NATO summit, the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson delivered, at least in a technical sense, on his promise to provide the headline findings of the review to Parliament in advance of the summer recess. The disappointing document contained little in the way of direction and decisions, focusing on three conclusions, these being that the UK Armed Forces must match the technological pace of adversaries, it must retain and reform a fighting force that is fit for the 21st century, and that defence needs to be reset in order to achieve better value for money.
According to the update, the key principles of Joint Force 2025, as set out in the the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, remain valid. However, a shifting security situation means some elements may need to take precedence and be accelerated. No decision on exactly how and when the full conclusions will be published were provide, nor on where savings might be made. The lack of detail suggests little progress between Mr Williamson and the chancellor in terms of MOD’s financial settlement, without which the department finds itself unable to conclude the MDP in the face of an estimated £20 billion funding hole in the equipment plan over the next 10 years without intervention. One welcome new initiative was the commitment to establishing a Defence Technology Framework, leading to more strategic investment in innovation, science and technology, including spearhead initiatives on key technologies, though the success of that too will depend on investment. Speculation is now that no funding decisions will be known until the Government’s Autumn budget statement.
MOD publish National Combat Air Strategy
Despite the delay to the MDP, MOD was able to publish its Combat Air Strategy, which was revealed at the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday. As the 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy did for warships, this sets out the how MOD will acquire the next generation of frontline combat aircraft. NDI has long lobbied for an acquisition approach that protects the key skills, technologies and infrastructure that exists in the UK to deliver such capabilities and it encouraging that the strategy is designed to ‘strengthen the UK’s role as a global leader in the sector’ and recognises the role of UK industry in ensuring the RAF’s enduring role as a world leading air force. Welcome too is the vision for how, through future acquisition, the UK can drive the best overall return from its investment, seeking to balance military capability, international influence, and economic and prosperity benefit along with the overall cost. This is a logic based, in MOD’s own words, on the fact that the defence sector is a ‘huge contributor to UK prosperity, creating thousands of jobs in a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, and generating a UK sovereign capability that is the best in the world.’
In order to deliver the strategy, a joint program office, Team Tempest, has been established to develop a new combat air concept. BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce are partnering with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office. This will focus on four key technology areas in which the UK is already world-leading; combat air systems and integration, power and propulsion systems, sensors, electronics and avionics, and weapon systems. It is excepted that this will provide a wide range of opportunities for supply chain engagement, both with companies already operating in the aerospace sector and companies with technology that could potentially be harnessed in future. Early decisions around how to acquire the capability are expected to be confirmed by the end of 2020, before final investment decisions are made by 2025. The aim is then for a next generation platform to have operational capability by 2035.
Stuart Andrew MP appointed Minister for Defence Procurement
In the fallout from the fractious votes in the House of Commons on amendments to the Brexit White Paper this week, one casualty was Guto Bebb MP, who on Monday resigned as Minister for Defence Procurement in order to vote against the Government. Mr Bebb served little more than six months in post, having only been appointed to the department in the January reshuffle. On Thursday evening it was confirmed that Mr Bebb would be replaced by Stuart Andrew MP. Mr Andrew had represented the Pudsey constituency in Yorkshire since the 2010 general election. His first Ministerial appointment had been to replace Mr Bebb at the Wales office in January.
MODERNISING DEFENCE PROGRAM: Asked when MOD plans for the substantive findings of the Modernising Defence Program to be published, Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson replied that ‘we are aiming to share headline conclusions from the Modernising Defence Programme before the summer recess, with a further period of cross-Government analysis and discussion to continue into the autumn.’
COMBAT AIR STRATEGY: Asked whether MOD has plans to develop a UK-only unmanned combat aerial vehicle programme and sixth generation successor to the Eurofighter, the new Minister for Defence Procurement, Stuart Andrew, replied that ‘the UK's Combat Air Strategy, published on 16 July 2018, outlines the Ministry of Defence's plans for the delivery of Combat Air capability. It has initiated the acquisition programme which will develop the proposals for the delivery of the next generation capability to replace Typhoon, including the nature of that capability.’
COMBAT AIR SRATEGY: Asked which European countries are working with the UK on the Future Combat Air Strategy, Minister for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster answered that ‘in developing the Combat Air Strategy, Ministry of Defence officials have held discussions with a range of European nations, as well as a number of allies and partners from across the globe.’
DEFENCE PROSPERITY REVIEW: Asked, with reference to Philip Dunne’s defence prosperity review published on 9 July, if MOD will issue a formal response to each recommendation made, former-Minister, Guto Bebb replied that the review ‘…supports both the National Security Objective to Promote Prosperity as well as the goals set out the Industrial Strategy White Paper published last November. This is an important piece of work. The Government will now consider his recommendations in detail and publish a response in due course.’
WEAPONS PROGRAMMES: Asked what estimate he has made on the potential effect on his Department's budget initiating UK-only programmes for new weapon systems, Mr Andrew replied that MOD ‘…strive to provide our Armed Forces with the capabilities they need at the best value for money, obtaining this through open competition in the global market wherever possible. We are ready to take a different approach, to protect our freedom of action or operational advantage, but, only where it is essential for national security. This always requires a careful balance of risk and opportunity cost.’
TYPE 26 FRIGATE: Asked to list each of the long-lead items required for the first eight T26 frigates, Mr Bebb replied that ‘MOD has ordered long-lead items for the first batch of three Type 26 Frigates. This included investment in the wider supply chain and covered key equipment purchases including the diesel generators, gas turbines and steering gear systems. We will define the list of long-lead items required for the remaining five ships and place the orders at the appropriate time.’