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Defence Technology

Volume 718: debated on Monday 18 July 2022

Underpinned by a ringfenced £6.6 billion commitment to defence research and development, we are determined to innovate effectively and at scale. In addition to the well-established Defence and Security Accelerator programme this summer, we are launching the Defence Technology Exploitation programme, geared to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and their innovative role in defence.

As my hon. Friend will know, we face a continued and substantial increase in attacks from cyber-technology. It is important to note that that is happening every single day that our defences are being probed. What further efforts will my hon. Friend make to ensure that our defences are secure and those attacks are rebuffed?

My hon. Friend is right about that threat, and he is right to suggest that we need to be absolutely on our toes in dealing with it. The Department continuously integrates leading-edge innovative cyber-technologies into military operations, including intelligence agents for autonomous resilience cyber-defence and cyber-deception technologies, through the National Cyber Deception Laboratory. In doing so, we make active use of DASA funding and the excellent expertise that we have in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

As we see in the tragedy that is happening to Ukraine, the normal boundaries of warfare are being ignored, with increasing risks of the employment of biological or viral warfare strategies. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to be at the forefront of innovation and research to deliver the best possible platforms to defend against these abhorrent strategies, and that the work that companies such as Kromek in Sedgefield are doing in collaboration with others deserves full support and indeed acceleration?

I am familiar with Kromek and its capabilities, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is often SMEs that produce the most brilliant ideas, often working with excellent British universities. DASA finds and supports new ideas within defence, and I am delighted that SMEs make up some two thirds of the projects that DASA supports. Funding is also available for specialist innovative projects through Defence Science and Technology.

Building on the comments about SMEs, the conflict in Ukraine has shown the benefits of technical innovation, particularly in the area of drones, and we have great SMEs in this country that are keen to help, so could my hon. Friend explain a bit more about how he is engaging with that sector?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, not least because it gives me the opportunity to say how keen the entire defence sector is to support our friends in Ukraine in every way we can. We recently completed the application phase of our Ukrainian innovation fund competition, and no fewer than 295 proposals designed to deliver capability to our friends in the Ukraine in the very short term were submitted from 205 different companies. Many are being closely scrutinised, including 17 that have been shortlisted for immediate attention, and I am proud to say that the majority of contributors were SMEs.

As we have seen from recent events in Ukraine, air combat is incredibly important to maintaining our national security and also, as has been mentioned, to maintaining our economic security-supporting businesses, such as Middleton-based MSM in my constituency. Can my hon. Friend tell me what is being done to ensure that the RAF retains its cutting-edge capabilities?

A brilliantly topical question, if I may say so, with Farnborough taking place this very week. I was delighted to announce last Friday at the Royal International Air Tattoo our £2.3 billion investment in ECRS mark 2 radar. This British-made world-leading electronic warfare capability will transform our combat air. It is just one example of how we will continue to invest in combat air as we develop our next generation future combat air system programme. We are currently investing some £2 billion into FCAS, with industry and international partners likewise investing in what will be an extraordinary combat capability.

A few moments ago, the Defence Secretary mentioned Typhoon and the advantages of international co-operation. Is this Government, post Brexit, prepared to have a clear strategy to say that co-operation across Europe is in the interests of defence jobs here in the United Kingdom?

It is absolutely the case that co-operation across Europe is helpful to our own defence sector and to the capabilities of the entire western alliance. A couple of weeks ago, I was there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, a major procurement hub that we do jointly with the Germans, the Belgians, the Spanish and the Italians. There are umpteen programmes, including Typhoon, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and Boxer, on which we work very closely. Indeed, the ECRS mark 2 programme to which I have just referred will be integrated by a P4E integration programme across our Typhoon partners. It is absolutely right that we work with all our allies across NATO and they include many of our European friends.

If this is indeed the last Defence questions for the present Defence team, I would like to place on record my thanks to the Minister for Defence Procurement for his kindness and generosity since I started shadowing him over a year ago. He is well known in the House for his attention to detail and he has been a formidable opponent for me.

“Complacent”, “too traditional”, and “resistant to change or criticism” are some of the words used to describe the Department by the Public Accounts Committee. With a new urgency for innovation due to the clear and present danger created by the war in Ukraine, and with deep concerns that the Department cannot manage large projects such as Dreadnought, is the Minister confident that the Department can deliver the new battle-winning capabilities this country needs, on time and in budget?

I very much thank the hon. Gentleman, my shadow, for his question, which started so well. I am very grateful and I hope that we continue our ongoing relationship across the Dispatch Box. I understand his concerns. They have been voiced by the PAC and we have responded to the concerns raised. I am afraid that I am a details bore, and we do go through the projects project by project. Defence procurement is never easy—it is a tough thing to get right—and I have not yet found a state anywhere on earth that can really deliver to the kind of standards that I am sure the hon. Gentleman would wish to see. What I do know is that, in Defence Equipment and Support and throughout the MOD, we have people who are doing a great job. They are becoming more professional, and senior responsible owners are spending more time on the projects. We are making sure that projects are properly set up to succeed at the start and ensuring that they are properly funded. It is that combination, along with working through the defence and security industrial strategy with British companies, that will get us the results we all wish to see.