Minister for Defence Procurement speaking at the Navy Leaders’ Combined Naval Event
It’s a pleasure to be here at the tenth Navy Leaders’ Combined Naval Event.
It’s very pleasing to see so many international partners from around the world. I was just talking to the Peruvian delegation. And just want to emphasise this point about the importance of international partnership as being key to our collective defence.
On Friday, I had the great privilege of attending the Hebrides range, Benbecula, for the NATO exercise there were I think, 13 countries, 4,000 personnel. We had senior officers, Americans, Italians, Norway, and so on. And we must all remember that there’s nothing more powerful than the signal it sends to our adversaries to see how many of us there are in a coalition and how strong is our collective determination.
So, I also had, some of you may have been there, the pleasure to address the First Sea Lord Sea Power conference last Wednesday, in London and again, representation all around the world.
So, as I say, in the job for a month, I hope I have already shown that while the ministers do change from time to time, our consistent recognition of the importance of the maritime domain remains unchanged.
And as I am a new minister, just by way of background, so some of you will know the Minister of Defence Procurement is actually typically not someone who served the military but with a commercial or legal background. So, I’ve taken over from a lawyer, Alex Chalk, who is now the Justice Secretary, and Lord Chancellor.
My background is in business I ran an SME, and although not in the defence sector, participated in public procurement so I have a lot of sympathy for those companies. The SMEs, which I see as a key stakeholder in defence, but previously was a minister in the Treasury.
So, you may say, SME background, Treasury minister, perfect for defence procurement in some respects, but I will just say this, it’s not just about that angle of value for money. It’s about growth.
So, for me, it is about the contribution of defence and the UK defence industry to our domestic growth, but in particular to the export potential. And I do personally feel passionately that this country can go even further as a leader in defence exports. And that will be a particular priority for me that I’ll be setting out more in the coming weeks.
I spoke about the importance of the maritime domain. More than 90% of global trade is still carried over the oceans, tens of thousands of miles of underwater cables carry global financial transactions worth trillions of dollars between continents everyday as well as more than 95% of international data. So, in other words, the contemporary global system depends on a well-functioning maritime sector.
But with dependency inevitably comes vulnerability and today we are facing some of the most profound challenges to the domain that we’ve seen for decades.
Whether it’s Russia is barbaric invasion of Ukraine, subsequent blocking of the vital trade routes into the Black Sea, or China’s increasing belligerence as it expands its presence across the world. Something our refreshed integrated review calls an epoch defining threat.
Then there is the all-encompassing threat posed by climate change, raising the stakes in the high north as melting ice caps reveal natural resources, and potential trade routes.
The reality is that our Navies are being pulled in every single direction with events in the Indo Pacific directly impacting the Euro Atlantic, and vice versa. And we’re being forced to meet these ever-increasing demands under ever tighter budgets.
But it is far from all doom and gloom. This weekend, we’ll celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. And just as in 1943, today, we still have one thing our adversaries lack, that is partners we can trust.
Here in Farnborough, we have representatives from 50 countries, including all 30 NATO nations, here because as we all know that in this era of constant global competition, we can only succeed if we work together which is very much the spirit I saw up in the Outer Hebrides.
Not just on operations and in exercises but in the factories and the shipyards. And as you might expect from a procurement minister, it’s the industrial side of things that I want to focus on today.
The crucial component of regalvanising our industrial capacity, as while our navies might travel around the world, it’s the industrial sector back home that powers their success. In recent years, the UK shipbuilding industry has been transforming itself so it can do more business with you.
But why would you want to work with us?
Here are three key reasons.
First of all, we’ve got the skills.
For centuries British shipyards were a byword for quality.
During the Battle of the Atlantic the likes of Rosyth, Belfast and Devonport built their legends churning out mighty steel leviathans at a rate of knots.
Today we’re witnessing a renaissance in great British shipbuilding as those same yards construct the next generation of world-class vessels. And we’re working in tandem with our suppliers to strengthen their hand.
We’ve put in place a 30-year pipeline of Government orders – spanning frigates, destroyers, and support ships for the Navy, as well as a whole host of vessels for other government departments. And that’s giving industry the baseline demand they need to invest and upskill.
We’re also simplifying the procurement process by cutting out unnecessary regulation and process.
But as well as building for today, our industrial sector is laying the foundations for future success too.
Not just by constructing world-class facilities, from the carbon-neutral Carrier Logistics Centre under construction in Portsmouth, to the new shipbuilding hall at Govan.
But by training thousands of new maritime engineers and project planners, on apprentice and graduate schemes, ensuring we have the onshore skills base required to stay at the cutting edge of this industry for decades to come.
Secondly, the UK is an innovation nation.
80 years ago, it was ground-breaking radar and SONAR technology that swung the Battle of the Atlantic our way. Today our maritime industry is again at the forefront of new technologies and concepts.
And while a former sailor and Farnborough alumnus Patrick Blackett once conducted crucial operations research during the Second World War, today Patrick Blackett lends his name to our unique experimental vessel for testing these new technologies.
Operated by NavyX, the Patrick Blackett helps the team bring new kit and concepts from the drawing board to the frontline as quickly as possible.
At the moment they’re testing a quantum accelerator in partnership with Imperial College. This particular quantum accelerator provides a cutting-edge navigational system, meaning we can still operate if our access to satellites is cut off, even if others cannot.
And that’s just one example of the innovation driving our Navy.
In the past year, we’ve also been trialling uncrewed minehunters on operations in the Gulf and investing in autonomous helicopters which can track adversary submarines. As well as fitting the Mk 41 missile launcher to our Type-26 and Type-31 frigates – enabling them to use a whole range of next-generation weaponry.
And we’ve also just announced a deal with Thales for a £70 million combat mission system for the Type-31s. But we’re not just focusing on today’s technology. We’re preparing for the breakthroughs that haven’t even reach the concept yet; those ‘Dreadnought’ moments of tomorrow; those advanced vessels that make anything that came before obsolete.
Thirdly and finally, we want you to work with us because we share fundamental values.
In a world where our way of life is constantly being undermined by rogue actors both state and non-state, it’s important to have partners you can trust.
Partners united by a firm belief in freedom and the international rule of law. And partners with whom we are working ever more closely to protect our values.
I am delighted that over the past year, our ships have been working with your navies right across the world.
Whether supporting and leading NATO exercises in Eastern Europe and training Ukrainian sailors in mine clearance.
Whether operating in the High North alongside partners in the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).
Whether safeguarding strategic chokepoints on busy shipping lanes around the Malacca Strait, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Suez Canal.
We’ve shown that when we come together, cliche as it is, we can be greater than the sum of our parts.
And that’s as much the case in our factories and shipyards as it is on operations and exercises.
As I said earlier, the UK’s shipbuilding industry has taken significant steps to becoming a stronger partner.
We’re now designing our next-generation ships with exportability at their heart.
And we’re already seeing some of the huge benefits of industrial collaboration.
Take our Type-26 frigate – the global combat ship.
The likes of Australia and Canada are already investing in this world-beating design because they recognise how much it can do for their own navies.
Then there’s our Type-31 frigate – which, as well as being one of the most adaptable ships around, is helping form a new kind of partnership.
One which isn’t just about buying and selling. But about sharing skills, learning from each other, and helping partner nations to build up their own indigenous shipbuilding industry.
That’s something we are seeing right now in Poland, thanks to the support of the Navy and Babcock. And I look forward to seeing other nations join the Type-31 club in the coming months and years.
Yet perhaps the best example of this partnership in principle is AUKUS.
It’s not just strengthening our industrial bases and creating thousands of highly skilled jobs in the UK, US, and Australia.
And it’s not just turbocharging innovation, with all three nations pooling their best and brightest brains to break new ground in underwater technology.
But it’s uniting three allies at a time when our adversaries are trying to drive us further apart.
AUKUS, therefore, provides a model for the way we seek to work with our friends in future.
And I’m here today because I want us to seize the opportunities on offer to bolster our bonds and extend our associations.
So, I do hope this will be the start of a stronger relationship with all your navies and industries.
The UK’s shipbuilding sector is energised. The engines are pumping, the propellers are turning and we’re setting sail for success. By the time I’ve been in the job for a few months, I’ll come up with some better puns than that!
So, let’s do more together, let’s learn from each other and let’s find new ways to share our industrial burden.
And as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of that victory in the Battle of the Atlantic this weekend, with allied navies convening on the Mersey for three days of commemorations, let’s remember that in our darkest days we found strength and solace in great partnerships.
By reinvigorating those partnerships today, we can pave the way for an even more successful tomorrow.
Thank you very much.