During the defence in the world debate on 15 March I set out my intention to announce a number of important equipment procurement decisions over the coming days that will deliver vital capabilities for the Royal Navy, the Army, and the Royal Air Force, ensuring they are well equipped to undertake future missions.
My approach continues that which I set out in the House on 15 December, and on 3 February with the defence Green Paper that paves the way for a strategic defence review after the general election. Many of the decisions we face in the future of defence will be left for the review but there is also a clear need to maintain momentum on projects that are integral to any future defence programme, and to continue to work to ensure the long-term affordability of the overall programme.
Today, I am pleased to announce the successful outcome of the specialist vehicle competition. This represents a very important milestone towards replacing the ageing combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked), and is one of the highest equipment priorities for the Army.
Preferred bidder status has been awarded to General Dynamics UK for the demonstration phase of the specialist vehicle programme, subject to successful completion of contractual negotiations. This decision was made following a robust assessment of the tenders received, ensuring value for money throughout the life of these vehicles.
The solution offered by General Dynamics UK is based on an upgrade to the ASCOD vehicle that is already in service with a number of European nations. The British variants of this design will employ the 40 mm cased telescoped ammunition and cannon, and provide protection against a wide range of threats. Once in service, this new capability will bring significant benefit to the Army including improved protection, greater firepower, longer-range sensors and sighting systems, and a higher level of reliability.
General Dynamics UK’s proposed solution contains 73 per cent. UK content within the supply chain and the assembly, integration and test facilities at the Defence Support Group Donnington. This ensures the sustainment of UK jobs, UK skills and UK capabilities within the armoured vehicle sector.
We are determined to provide the armed forces with the capabilities they require, and the SV decision follows the announcement of our commitment to order an initial batch of 200 light protected patrol vehicles (LPPV), which we will get to Afghanistan as quickly as possible. The initial batch of 200 vehicles will be funded from the Treasury reserve as an urgent operational requirement. The LPPVs we are assessing through competition are at the cutting edge of technology, providing the optimum balance between protection, weight and manoeuvrability required by our armed forces on operations in Afghanistan.
This is in addition to the announcements I made on 15 December, of further reserve funding of £280 million for equipment for Afghanistan including additional vehicles, and £900 million of enhancements from the core defence programme, including 22 Chinook helicopters, an additional C-17, a doubling of our Reaper capability, and strengthening our counter-IED capability—funded by savings in lower priority areas, and based on our determination to support the current campaign and our belief that we expect such capabilities to feature in future conflicts.
We are not able to announce the outcome of the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme competition today. Following an assessment of the tenders from BAE Systems Global Combat Systems and Lockheed Martin UK Ampthill, we intend to invite the competitors to revise and confirm their bids. Further announcements will be made in due course.
I am, however, pleased to announce that on 19 March we reached agreement with the US Government to purchase three Rivet Joint aircraft and associated ground systems delivering vital capability for the Royal Air Force to replace the Nimrod R1 capability that will be retired from service in March 2011.
The Rivet Joint system was selected following an extensive assessment phase that considered a number of possible solutions. Rivet Joint was selected as it is the only viable option that meets the requirements of our armed forces.
I intend to make further announcements in the coming days about new and additional capability for our armed forces and defence contracts for UK industry.