UK announce Defence Space Strategy and Artificial Intelligence Hub
On 22 May, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson launched the UK’s first Defence Space Strategy, with it committing to an uplift in national space expertise. The announcement includes a plan to boost the number of personnel currently working in the sector by 20%, to over 600. RAF Air Command has assumed responsibility for command and control of UK military space operations to defend the UK’s interests in space. Full details of the new Strategy will be finalised by the summer and will set out plans to protect UK operations against space-based threats. That the announcement came as the Government set out its objections to the EU position that, post-BREXIT, the UK will lose rights to access the security restricted elements of the Galileo satellite navigation system, was telling. In the positioning paper, released on 24 May, MOD argues that the UK’s contribution strengthens the programme and strongly objects to its exclusion from security related discussions, which it claims has resulted in the UK companies being unable to tender for secure contracts. The paper demands £1bn of UK investment is returned if a deal cannot be reached to allow the UK to remain part of the programme.
Separately, the UK and US have together announced a new Artificial Intelligence Hub to co-develop disruptive technologies for defence and security applications. Launched at the first meeting of the US-UK Defence Innovation Board meeting on 21 May, the plan is to develop the laboratory, modernise procurement, and strengthen respective forces with the help of the other partner. The AI Lab will be based at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down in Wiltshire.
NAO warns on nuclear affordability gap
The National Audit Office has cautioned that Britain faces a £2.9 billion affordability gap in the estimated £51 billion cost of renewing the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which will require stringent savings and strict program management. The report, released on 22 May, said that MOD needs to ensure it manages its costs, people, contractors and schedule effectively to maintain the Defence Nuclear Enterprise. The majority of Enterprise spending relates to nuclear equipment and support programmes, with MOD estimating a spend £50.9 billion on these between 2018 and 2028. As a reported in The Telegraph, the £2.9 billion affordability gap will need to be met in addition to the Department realising it’s £3 billion of programmed efficiencies in full over the next 10 years. If not, it may need to make further use of contingency funding. It has already received, in agreement with HM Treasury, access to £600 million of Dreadnought specific contingency for 2018-19 to ensure it can deliver within its initial 2015 whole-life cost forecast. MOD welcomed the report, saying that it highlighted that the programme remains on track to be delivered on schedule and within the original estimated cost, without addressing the apparent funding gap.
Babcock unveils ‘Arrowhead 140’ for Type 31e Competition
On 31 May unveiled the Arrowhead 140 as its design for the Royal Navy’s planned Type 31e general purpose light frigate programme. The team - led by Babcock and including Thales, OMT, BMT, Harland and Wolff and Ferguson Marine – underlined the vessel’s established, ‘at sea’ design baseline which can be developed to meet global requirements. Developed from OMT’s Iver Huitfeldt hull currently in-service with the Royal Danish Navy, Arrowhead 140 proposes to imbed UK technologies to meet the Royal Navy’s requirement for a capable, exportable new platform. Details were also revealed about the distributed build and assembly approach, comprising Babcock Appledore in North Devon, Ferguson Marine on the Clyde, Harland and Wolff in Belfast with integration at Babcock Rosyth, Fife. This aims to optimise partners’ facilities and workforce to ensure timely delivery, whilst cleverly ensuring capacity for parallel programmes remains. The team believe this sits with both spirit and intent of the government’s 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy.
MOD warned on future procurement model for E3-Sentry replacement
On Tuesday, The Telegraph reported on the intervention by Madeline Moon MP, a member of the Defence Select Committee, calling for a competitive tender for any competition launched by MOD to replace the E3-Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, the future of which is believed to be being considered as part of the government’s Modernising Defence Programme. Mrs Moon warned about the importance of both using competition to get the best deal, and ensuring that the programme supports UK prosperity. Options include upgrades to the current E3-Sentry fleet, however voices calling for a replacement have been growing in order to be resilient against immerging threats from advanced long-range weapons systems. The Defence Procurement Minister, Guto Bebb, has said that no decision has been made with regard to the future of the current platform. Whatever the procurement model, NDI has been vocal in demanding that the government seeks to ensure that, whoever the prime contractor is, that as much work is placed within the UK supply chain as possible.
NATO DEFENCE SPENDIGN TARGET: Asked what is the latest public expectation of the percentage of GDP to be devoted to defence spending in 2024 for each member of the NATO Alliance, in pursuit of their unanimous commitment, made at the Wales Summit in 2014, to move towards two per cent, Earl Howe replied that ‘the UK continues to encourage all Allies to work towards meeting the 2014 Defence Investment Pledge, under which they are committed to spending at least 2% of their GDP on Defence by 2024. The UK Government has committed to meeting that target and to ensuring that the Defence budget continues to rise by at least 0.5% above inflation for every year of this Parliament. The UK does not make its own assessment of other Allies' defence spend; it is for NATO to assess that against its own metrics, and it publishes regular reports on Allies' Defence spending.’
SHIPBUILDING: Asked whether the government has applied any pressure on builders of Royal Navy surface ships and submarines to reduce planned completion timescales and thereby cut costs, Defence Minister Earl Howe replied only to say that the MOD ‘works closely with its suppliers to ensure timely delivery of capability and cost control across all of its programmes.’
TYPHOON: Asked what estimate has been made of the costs associated with installation of the Enhanced Collision Avoidance System in Typhoon aircraft, Guto Bebb replied that ‘introducing stage one of the Enhanced Collision Awareness System (ECAS) on to Typhoon is just one of a series of capability enhancements, with a current overall contract value of £45 million.’