The Government has admitted the need for both military acquisition reform and an updated Defence Industrial Strategy in order to support continued success in the defence industry.
The comments came during a speech by Lord Drayson, Minister of State for Strategic Defence Acquisition Reform, at an event held on Tuesday at the BAE Military Air Solutions in Warton, Lancashire.
The event, organised by A|D|S, the UK’s AeroSpace, Defence and Security trade organisation, provided an insight in to the Government’s plans for both current projects and future changes to the procurement procedures.
Using the BAE Systems Mantis unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as an example of a recent development in advanced military applications. According to the minister, the UAV market could be worth as much as £5bn for the UK economy by 2016.
“In the future, UAVs will outnumber manned aircraft,” he said. “So pilots will certainly have to get used to operating alongside UAVs in future missions. Civilian regulations and air traffic control rules will have to evolve to allow UAVs to share airspace. In the meantime, do not lose sight of the fact that the UK is the world leader on UAVs. No-one else can deliver Mantis-like capability at the moment.”
According to Drayson, it is the UK’s R&D capabilities that best helps the needs of both industry and the military, and the UK should be proud of its world class R&D. “I want British people to know about what our scientists and engineers are capable of, and be proud too. UAVs are testament to our expertise in science and engineering which, to my mind, represents this country’s key competitive advantage.”
Government figures say the UK defence industry holds a 20% share of the global defence market, produces exports worth £5bn per annum and provides around 300,000 UK jobs. Associated defence markets such as the global security market which is worth around $180bn and is forecast to reach $300bn in the next 10 years.
While the defence industry’s success is commendable, Lord Drayson also acknowledged the sector’s susceptibility for over-run budgets and the Government’s plans for procurement reform. “Our Strategy for Acquisition Reform gets to the heart of why the MoD has an overheated equipment programme. We have now committed to annual audits of the budget by Parliament and the National Audit Office. We are investing heavily in the cost forecasting skills of the DE&S staff. We have strengthened governance at the highest level, so that what comes in and goes out of the programme is more rigorously controlled.”
Continuing the reform agenda, Drayson concluded with discussion of the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review and the update of the associated Defence Industrial Strategy. He said the next few months were critical for laying the right foundations for defence for the next two decades. Drayson said the review would need to answer some fundamental questions that included: the desired role of the armed forces on the world stage; the required military capabilities for such a role; the associated costs and, most importantly, how the Government would afford them.