UK and Australia discuss equipment cooperation
Defence Procurement Minister Harriett Baldwin visited Australia this week to meet with counterpart, Christopher Pyne. The intention of the visit was to strengthen bilateral defence equipment cooperation and comes as Australia move closer to a decision on which capability will be selected for their Future Frigate programme. BAE Systems’ bid, based around the Type-26 Anti-Submarine Warfare frigate being built for the Royal Navy, has been shortlisted. Last month, BAE Systems announced that they had awarded contracts with two Australian companies to supply the Type-26 programme, an indication of the depth of collaboration that might be achieved if Australia does opt for the Type-26. To this end, the Minister’s used the opportunity to announce a feasibility study for the fitting of CEA Technologies’ ‘CEAFAR’ radar technology on future British warships, a capability already in-service with the Royal Australian Navy. How such a proposal will fit with the National Shipbuilding Strategy remains to be seen, but MOD will be hoping to drive economies of scale into the UK programme should Australia partner on the programme, while the UK supply chain already engaged on the Royal Navy programme will be hoping to similarly benefit from opportunities to supply Australia.
Former military commanders warn that defence is close to breaking
On Tuesday, the Defence Select Committee heard evidence from three recently retired military commanders; Admiral Sir George Zambellas, General Sir Richard Barrons and Air Marshal Sir Baz North. Sticking to what is becoming a familiar theme, all three warned that the UK’s Armed Forces are in danger of falling behind its peers in terms of manpower and capability due to chronic underfunding. General Barrons claimed starkly that the military is ‘broken’ and the Army is ’20 years out of date’. The Defence Select Committee is gathering evidence for its own report on the National Security Capability Review, currently underway in the Cabinet Office and expected to report before the end of the year. The MOD response was only to point out the Defence budget exceeds NATO’s 2% spending target and is the largest in Europe. It remains to be seen how the issued raised by the three former commanders will be addressed in the review, though an early indication could come next week when the Chancellor reveals his Budget on Wednesday.
Extent of Warrior upgrade programme in doubt
Figures revealed this week by MOD show that at least £381 million has been spent overhauling the Army’s fleet of Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, news that comes amid concerns over potential cuts to the programme. Lockheed Martin UK was hired six years ago to upgrade 380 Warrior vehicles and fit a new gun turret. The upgraded vehicles will form the core fighting capability of two armoured infantry brigades that are rumoured to be earmarked for cuts under the upcoming National Security Capability Review. If, as recently speculated by The Times, one of these brigades is disbanded, then there are fears that the upgrade programme could be dramatically scaled back. While this might have the effect of reducing overall programme expenditure, it would significantly increase the cost per unit. There are also concerns that disbanding the brigade would leave the Army significantly below strength in relation to the force structure envisaged in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, reinforcing the views put to the Defence Select Committee by Gen Barrons this week.
Asked whether MOD will give consideration to retaining UK aerospace design and manufacturing capability by taking into account supply chains when purchasing new aircraft, the Minister replying made the following statement:
The UK's Defence Aerospace Industry makes to the UK's national security and prosperity.
Through the Future Combat Air Strategy Technology Initiative (FCAS TI), announced as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review settlement, we are pursuing a national programme to ensure the UK retains the skills and capabilities necessary to maintain our place as a global leader in this area including in the wider supply chain.
We continue to review the defence industrial landscape, including in the UK aerospace sector to better understand our longer-term requirements and delivery options including the potential for international partnering, industry's appetite to invest, adjacent civil investment and overall affordability. Our review process considers the broader supply chain and will be taken into consideration in future procurement decisions. In addition, the refreshed Defence Industrial Policy will further explain how our investment choices take account of factors contributing to a more dynamic and productive UK economy, in which the UK defence supply chain plays a crucial part.
Asked whether, in their current review of defence options, consideration will be given to placing the costs of the Vanguard class submarine replacement programme outside the defence budget, the MOD replied that it was rightly funded from within its budget. The Department remains on track to deliver this programme within the £31 billion budget, with the first in the Dreadnought class entering service in the 2030s. Allocation of additional funds will be determined based on those activities that are the highest priority.
Asked to which countries MOD is supporting the sale of Typhoon aircraft, MOD replied that the UK Government and the Governments of the Eurofighter Typhoon Partner Nations are working with Eurofighter Partner Companies to maximize the export potential of the Typhoon in the worldwide combat air jet market, looking to build on previous international success. MOD is currently leading engagements with Bahrain, Belgium, Finland, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Qatar.
Queen to commission aircraft carrier in three weeks’ time (Ministry of Defence)