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Defence Technology

Volume 727: debated on Monday 30 January 2023

The Ministry of Defence works closely with British industry and academia, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to identify and invest in innovative technologies that address our most pressing capability challenges, as well as publishing our future priorities to incentivise investment. We are already testing and deploying these technologies.

The best innovation is not necessarily the preserve of the giant players in the sector but can be found among smaller enterprises such as those at the Westcott Venture Park in my constituency, including Flare Bright’s development of autonomous drones for flight in global navigation satellite system-denied areas. Will my hon. and learned Friend assure me that when it comes to the development of new defence innovations, such smaller, dynamic enterprises are as valued to his Department as the more traditional big beasts?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: a lot of innovation does indeed come from agile SMEs, which is why the MOD’s SME action plan is firmly aimed at improving access for SMEs to work right through the defence supply chain. Indeed, the MOD has a target that 25% of its procurement spend will go directly and indirectly to SMEs—that is up from around 16% in 2016. The latest figures I have seen show that we are at 23% already. We are on the right path but there is further to go.

The Tempest fighter jet and the Challenger 3 are examples of the Government’s commitment to giving our forces good-quality equipment. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we must also prioritise the wellbeing of our personnel? One way to do that is to ensure that the quality of their food matches the calibre of their kit.

My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. Ensuring that our service personnel receive good-quality meals is a vital contribution to defence capability, which is why the Ministry of Defence has established a team of subject-matter experts to overhaul and modernise the delivery of defence catering using the findings of the “Delivering Defence Dining Quality” review and the ongoing Army Eats trials to inform change to the total food offer. The trials began in 2020 and the results are expected imminently. They will inform the future of dining for defence.

If we want to keep our country safe we need to work with our allies to ensure that we remain at the forefront of the latest developments in defence technology. Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that our new partnership with Japan and Italy will involve collaborating in areas such as weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles, and not just on fighter jets?

The ambition of this truly international programme is principally to deliver a cutting-edge fighter aircraft, providing a credible deterrent to future threats. As my hon. Friend knows, this is a system of systems, and it is likely to include uncrewed aircraft, new sensors, weapons, advanced data systems and secure networks. Those wider capabilities may be developed together with our wider partners, or with our existing partners in that endeavour. We will continue to explore system opportunities between both our core partnership and more widely.

Following the recent memorandum of understanding signed by the Royal Air Force and Imperial College London, how do Ministers expect that will impact on the RAF’s technological capabilities, particularly around digital and artificial intelligence?

Digital and artificial intelligence are central to RAF capability. I was delighted recently to announce that significant investment has taken place in Lincolnshire to ensure that when those aircraft take to the skies, they have the weapons systems but also the battlefield management plans that they require to ensure that they can take the fight to the enemy.