Prime Minister Dodges Challenge to Commit to 'Tier One' Defence Status
With the government remaining publically committed to concluding the Modernising Defence Review ahead of the NATO Summit in Brussels next week, Theresa May refused to commit to the UK remaining a "tier one" military power when pushed to do so during Prime Minister’s Questions. Mrs May was urged to make the pledge by Conservative backbencher Johnny Mercer, but would only commit to Britain remaining a ‘leading military power’. The term is generally considered to encompass only those nations who have a full range of expeditionary military capabilities, including nuclear weapons. The question came as a result of earlier reports that the Prime Minister had asked the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson to justify why this should apply to the UK. Mr Williamson’s demands for increased funding for defence have been the subject of much debate as the Review process comes to ahead. He has reportedly asks the Prime Minister to allocate an extra £4bn per year as part of the review, which would ensure that the MOD can deliver the Armed Forces promised during the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Chancellor is understood to remain resistant to any budget uplift.
BAE Systems selected for Australian Future Frigate Programme
On 29 June, the government of Australia announced that BAE Systems’ has been selected as the preferred tenderer for the design, build and support of the SEA 5000 Programme. The nine frigate programme will be known as the Hunter class, the design based on BAE Systems’ Type-26 frigate currently under construction in Glasgow for the Royal Navy. Central to the AUD $35Bn (~£20Bn) programme was the strengthening of Australia’s domestic shipbuilding industry, and the vessels will be built by ASC Shipbuilding in Adelaide. BAE Systems Chief Executive, Charles Woodburn, said: “BAE Systems’ selection as preferred tenderer for SEA 5000 reinforces our position as a leading designer and builder of complex maritime platforms. I am proud that our world class anti-submarine warfare design and our approach to transferring technology and skills to the nations in which we work is expected to contribute to the development of an enduring world-class naval shipbuilding industry in Australia.” The Hunter class will begin entering service in the late 2020s. Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the announcement, stating that the agreement will “…boost Britain’s export economy for generations to come, with huge opportunities set to arise which the Government believes the specialist knowledge and capability of British firms will be best placed to fulfil.”
UK In Talks with Sweden Over Next-Generation Fighter
On 5 July the Financial Times reported that the Ministry of Defence has held initial discussions with its Sweden counterparts about collaborating on a future combat jet programme. The story emerged as the MOD prepares to reveal the conclusions of its combat air strategy programme, with the report expected to be published at the Farnborough International Air Show later this month. Though not yet given cabinet approval, the Financial Times speculates that the government will commit to launching a next-generation fighter programme to replace Typhoon from 2040, with a timeline for awarding a manufacturing contract set at 2020. This would be a signal from the government that it regards the UK’s aerospace industry to be at the heart of its post-Brexit manufacturing ambitions. Such an announcement would deliver a strong signal to potential international partners that the UK is determined to press ahead with such a programme, regardless as to whether this is aligned to, or in competition with, the Franco-German future fighter project that was launched last year. The Combat Air Strategy is expected to set out the criteria for international collaboration, including the leading design role the UK would expect to play in any partnership. Sweden, whose largest defence contractor, Saab, makes Gripen, would be a natural partner, with UK industry already supplying a significant proportion of the technology towards that programme.
Defence Committee says any Surveillance Aircraft tender for RAF must be competed
On Tuesday the Chairman of the Defence Committee, Julian Lewis MP, wrote to the MOD to request that any requirement for replacing the UK’s airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft be put out to a competitive tender, rather than bought ‘off the shelf’ with no competition taking place. The RAF’s six Boeing E-3D Sentry AWACS aircraft are currently due to stay in service until 2035, subject to a capability sustainment programme. However, reports that as part of the Modernising Defence Programme, the MOD may cancel the sustainment programme and replacing the fleet with a new aircraft. A possible sole-source purchase of Boeing’s more modern E-7A Wedgetail capability, currently in service with Australia, South Korea and Turkey. Mr Lewis’s letter notes the advantages of a competitive tender in terms of maximising value for money and allowing proper consideration of a range of alternatives. News emerged later in the week that Airbus and Boeing were in talks to combine their airborne early warning capabilities in order to make a compelling offer to the MOD. This would centre on a collaboration bringing together an Airbus-built platform with a version of Saab’s Erieye radar.
Asked what recent assessment MOD has made of the effect on the UK defence and military aerospace industry of the UK leaving the EU, Minsiter for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb MP replied that “the Ministry of Defence is working closely with defence industry and other Government Departments to understand the implications and opportunities presented by the UK's departure from the European Union.
The European defence sector is already closely integrated; leading companies have a presence right across Europe, and across the UK. It is worth noting that current major European collaborative capability projects, such as the Typhoon programme, are managed bilaterally or with groups of partners, rather than through the EU.”
Asked how much of the planned £44 billion spending on submarines over the next decade will be spent on (a) support for Trafalgar and Astute Class submarines, (b) support for Vanguard Class submarines, (c) the delivery of Astute class submarines and associated activities and (d) building the Dreadnought class submarines and associated activities including the nuclear warhead capability sustainment programme, Mr Bebb referred to the National Audit Office landscape review on the Defence Nuclear Enterprise, published on 22 May 2018. This includes more recent forecasts of expenditure across the enterprise broken down into submarine build, in-service support, and warhead programmes.The details can be found in figures 3 and 12 of the report which is available here.
Asked what recent assessment he has made of the effect of investment in land equipment programmes on the Scottish defence industry, Mr bebb replied that “The Defence Industry in Scotland continues to play an important role in delivering cutting-edge capabilities for our Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) publishes regional expenditure statistics, although these are not broken down by defence programme. In 2016-17, the MOD spent £1.592 billion with UK Industry and commerce in Scotland, sustaining 10,500 jobs.” Further details can be found here.
Asked which dry dock facilities in the UK are under consideration as a future maintenance base for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, and when a contract will be awarded, Mr Bebb replied that
“The following dry-dock facilities in the UK are of a sufficient size to accommodate the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers: Able UK, Seaton Port, Teeside; Babcock, Rosyth; Cammell Laird, Birkenhead; Cammell Laird, Greenock (Inchgreen); Harland and Wolff, Belfast. Plans for the dry-docking of QEC aircraft carriers are currently under consideration as part of a commercial competitive process. It would be inappropriate to comment on which locations are under consideration until that process has been concluded and a contract has been awarded, as to do so would prejudice commercial interests. For the same reason I cannot comment on any engagement with industry in relation to the dry-docking of QEC aircraft carriers.” Mr Bebb separately reported that MOD plan to award the contract for the first dry docking of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the final quarter of 2018.
Asked what proportion of defence procurement contracts have been awarded by his Department to US companies in each of the last five years. Mr Bebb replied that, although MOD routinely publishes statistics on organisations paid more than £5 million, a breakdown to show US-owned companies could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Asked whether MOD plans to hold an industry day for potential bidders interested in his Department's programme to replace the RAF's current fleet of Boeing E-3D Sentry aircraft, Mr Bebb replied that “The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 recognised the need to invest in and sustain the RAF's Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) capability to at least 2035. As yet the procurement strategy has not been determined.”