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Combat Air Strategy

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018

On 21 February 2018, I informed the House that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) would produce a strategy for the combat air sector. Development of the strategy has drawn heavily on expertise from across defence, wider Government, academia, think-tanks, industry and international partners. The approach adopted is driven by the developing themes of the modernising defence programme and the recent review of defence’s contribution to national economic and social value conducted by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne).

Defence of the UK, protection of our people and our contribution to securing the rules-based international order requires us to deter adversaries by having the capability and the will to use decisive force to deliver our defence, foreign policy and economic objectives. The threats we face are evolving and proliferating ever more rapidly. World-class combat air capability allows us to maintain control of the air both at home and around the world.

The UK combat air sector provides the capability to underpin our operational advantage[1] and freedom of action[2] . It also makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and our international influence. The UK is a global leader in combat air, with cutting-edge military capability underpinned by world-class industrial and technical know-how.

The UK combat air sector has an annual turnover of over £6 billion and directly supports over 18,000 highly skilled jobs across the UK. It supports over 100,000 jobs in the supply chain and more than 2,000 companies across the UK. The UK is the world’s second largest exporter of defence equipment with defence aerospace representing over 80% of the value of these exports. We are at the heart of a number of key international programmes, including F-35—the largest defence programme in the world. Our position was secured through world-leading intellectual property, understanding, innovation and industrial capability. As we leave the EU, we will continue to seek partnerships across Europe and beyond to deliver UK, European and global security. To do this we must retain access to our proud industrial base. The UK’s combat air sector is therefore critical to the UK’s prosperity, our global Britain outlook and our ability to deliver the best capability to the front line.

The future of the UK’s combat air sector is, however, not assured. There has been a gap between major combat air development programmes and a clear indication of future UK military requirements is required to stimulate the research and development investment necessary to refresh UK intellectual property.

Today I can announce the publication of the UK combat air strategy. The strategy defines a clear way ahead to preserve our national advantage and maintain choice in how it is delivered. The MOD will work with wider Government, industry and international partners to deliver the strategy by taking the following steps:

The MOD will continue to invest in upgrading Typhoon to maintain its world-class capabilities for the coming decades.

The MOD will provide investment in key UK design engineering skills and a means to UK combat air strategy generate UK intellectual property by implementing the future combat air system technology Initiative. The initiative was established by the 2015 strategic defence and security review and builds on recent UK technology investment.

The MOD will initiate the UK’s capability acquisition programme to define and deliver the future capabilities required when Typhoon leaves service by 2040. An initial acquisition decision will be made by the end of 2020.

UK Government and industry will work together to achieve a more open and sustainable industrial base which invests in its own future, partners internationally and breaks the cycle of increasing cost and length of combat air programmes.

The UK will take a strategic approach to key combat air decisions. This will maximise the overall national value the UK derives from the sector; balancing military capability, international influence, economic and prosperity benefits.

Effective international partnering in combat air is fundamental to the delivery of our national goals and management of cost. The UK will work quickly and openly with allies to build on or establish new partnerships to define future requirements and how they could be delivered in a mutually beneficial manner.

By preserving our ability to maintain operational advantage and freedom of action, the strategy will ensure we have greater choice in how we deliver future capabilities and are able to maximise the economic and strategic benefits of future combat air acquisition programmes.

A copy of the combat air strategy has been placed in the Library of the House.

I will report annually to Parliament on progress in implementing the strategy.

[1] The ability to find and maintain an edge over potential adversaries, both to increase the chances of our success in hostile situations and to increase the protection of the UK assets involved, especially our people.

[2] The ability to determine our internal and external affairs and act in the country's interests free from intervention by other states or entities, in accordance with our legal obligations.