To ensure that our armed forces are able to meet current and future threats, we are investing over £6.6 billion in defence research and development over the next four years. Defence will accelerate the use of the next generation technologies through focused investment on demonstrators and early prototypes, aggressively pursuing game-changing capabilities at pace. This includes areas such as directed energy and hypersonic weapons, forms of drones, artificial intelligence and automation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that our British troops have the best equipment in the world, that when that is produced here in Britain by small manufacturers like CQC in my constituency, the procurement process should be fair and transparent, and that where possible we should be buying British and supporting British jobs in places like Barnstaple?
I absolutely agree that we need the best equipment. My hon. Friend has been a great advocate for CQC in her constituency. I am delighted that it recently secured an order for 27,000 operational travel bags for the British Army. Small and medium-sized enterprises perform an invaluable role in supporting defence and now account for over 21% of expenditure. I will publish a revised SME action plan later this year.
In common with my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), I welcome the support for SMEs in my constituency. We rightly prioritise our onshore industrial defence capabilities. However, in order to ensure that we remain at the forefront of technological advancements, can my hon. Friend assure me that we will not limit our ability to also work collaboratively with our friends and allies in developing new capabilities and responses to what are increasingly complex and ever-changing threats?
Absolutely not. I can reassure my hon. Friend that, as he recognises, international programmes are hugely important to defence and we will continue to engage with our friends and allies. To name but two, Boxer and FCAS—the future combat air system—are international collaborations, and they are bringing thousands of skilled jobs to the west midlands, to the north-west and throughout the UK.