Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced last week that a Combat Air Strategy is to be launched to ensure that the UK maintains its world-leading combat air capability. Appearing before the House of Commons Defence Committee, Mr Williamson said that the work would be Led by MOD, working closely with industry and international partners to ‘bring together the best of British engineering, skill and design, and deliver a compelling vision for the future of air power’ and would ‘seek to secure an enduring and strategic relationship with U.K. industry.’ The work intends to build on Government’s broader industrial strategy and MOD’s own refreshed industrial policy, both launched towards the end of 2017 and will examine the operational capability required by the RAF beyond its current fast jet fleet and consider the skills and resource required to deliver it, testing UK industry’s ability to deliver against this. The strategy is expected to be launched in the summer.
Director of NDI, Andy Tuscher, welcomed the announcement by MOD, who said that strategic planning in the defence aerospace sector was critical to the long-term sustainment of the critical industrial skills required to ensure the Royal Air Force remains at the forefront of technological capability. The MOD’s own figures show that the UK’s defence aerospace industry is made up of close to 2,500 companies, generating more than £33.5bn in turnover and employing more than 128,000 people - some 26,000 of them in highly skilled research, design and engineering jobs. In the combat air sector, this is focused around the two complimentary programmes that will form the backbone of the RAF fleet out to the 2040s, Typhoon and F-35 Lightening, UK industry being a leading partner in the European Typhoon programme and, on F-35, the US’s only Tier 1 partner. The new strategy will be critical in determining the means by which UK industry remains at the top table. Of course, as a national strategy, it will need to take account of the inevitable fact that the next generation of capability will nevertheless need to be developed as part of an international partnership. European cooperation will be an obvious avenue of exploration, though the UK is not currently part of the Franco-German initiative announced last year to explore a future European capacity. An option similar to the UK’s involvement with the US-led F-35 programme is also likely to be considered.
Prime Minister indicates UK will continue to be a leading partner on European defence programmes
During her speech to the Munich Security Conference last weekend, Theresa May warned that an European Union that opts to freeze the UK out of collaborative defence programmes would be taking a step backward in regional security. Stressing her reassurance that Brexit does not automatically translate to the UK’s abandonment of collective European security. The Prime Minister said that the UK spends around 40% of Europe’s total investment in defence research and development, and that ‘this provides a sizeable stimulus to improve Europe’s competitiveness and capability, and this is to the benefit of us all’. The UK would seek an open and inclusive approach to European capability development, and one that fully enables UK industry to participate. The UK is of course concerned that new pronouncements on collective EU security initiatives do not distract from NATO commitments, which remains at the centre of the UK’s collective defence strategy. France in particular has recently been advocating for greater integrated European defence, with President Macron making overtures to the UK to play a leading role, despite Brexit, on his recent visit to London. The speech came just days after NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg reminded the summit of NATO defence ministers that, once the UK leaves the EU, 80% of the alliance’s total defence spending will come from non-EU partners.
MOD updates on Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme
Reports this week suggested that the 2-year Assessment Phase to determine the winning bidder for the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank life extension programme is due to be completed by the end of the year. BAE Systems are competing with Rheinmetall for the opportunity to lead the programme to update 227 Challenger 2 tanks operated by the service’s three Armoured Infantry Brigades as well as training contingents in Canada and the United Kingdom. Upgrades will include stabilised sighting systems for the commander and gunner, associated control handles, gun control equipment, elements of the fire-control system, and crew displays. BAE Systems are proposing to utilise turret elements developed for the Ajax reconnaissance vehicle destined for British Army service, while Rheinmetall will leverage on its turret development experience with the Leopard 2 tank. Both competitors are expected to offer potential firepower enhancements as a potential add-on. The invitation to tender for the Demonstration, Manufacture and In Service phase is expected to be released in mid- 2018, with responses from industry required by the end of the year, with a view to contract award in mid-2019. Nevertheless, both bidders will be aware that in the intervening period, the Modernising Defence Programme is due to be released, that will re-baseline the Army’s future capability requirements against a revised threat picture and possible budget constraints. It is not known how, if at all, this may affect the Challenger upgrade programme.
Asked whether MOD has considered the potential merits of acquiring the capabilities currently being examined by the US Army's Squad-Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) programme, Guto Bebb, Minister for Defence Procurement replied that MOD is ‘actively engaged in the assessment of requirements and solutions for unmanned systems for the resupply of frontline troops. While we are not currently considering the acquisition of the US Army's Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) programme, other work is ongoing to develop similar capabilities. The most promising of these will be evaluated during the British Army's Exercise Autonomous Warrior (Land) later this year.’
Asked a series of questions relating to the identified future savings in the Equipment Support Projects Review as part of the Defence Equipment Plan 2017, the Minister replying said that the ‘total forecast savings shown in Figure 9 of the Equipment Plan 2017 summary report are composed of efficiencies from Equipment Support projects, the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP) and the Complex Weapons Pipeline (CWP). Savings delivered by the CWP have been reported as 'gross savings' and 'net savings' due to the two baseline cost estimates against which these efficiencies are assessed (see paragraph 24c of the Equipment Plan 2017 summary report). This structure is unique to the CWP efficiencies and therefore not applicable to either the Equipment Support or SEPP efficiencies.’ The Minister also stated that the value of future savings commercially sensitive and, therefore, was unable to release it at this time. However, on the £677 million of financial benefits delivered under the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme, the Minister said that the ‘financial benefits so far delivered have been achieved through over 200 individual initiatives that range from bulk buying efficiencies to innovative approaches to commercial and process management activities.’ Meanwhile, the weapons systems included in the Complex Weapons pipeline that will deliver an estimated £1.2 billion of savings over 10 years from 2010 are: Brimstone 2; SPEAR Capability 3; ASRAAM Block 6; Sea Venom; Sea Ceptor; and Land Ceptor.
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