Post-Brexit, Britain will “spread its wings across the world”, increasing arms and defence exports, Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said at the DSEI event earlier this week.
Fallon opened his speech noting that at the start of the year the Doomsday Clock moved 30 seconds closer to midnight, and “it seems they weren’t exaggerating.”
He said: “As the danger proliferates defence’s stock rises and the demand for the best kit goes through the roof.”
He cited threats including Daesh (ISIS), North Korea, Russia and the Wannacry cyber-virus, and told delegates, including uniformed soldiers and industry professionals, that the government’s strategy for tackling the fast-evolving landscape is based on 3Cs – choice, collaboration and competition.
Invest and innovate
The government will increase its defence budget by 0.5 per cent each year, Fallon said, hitting £37 billion next year. He said the money will be used for the “the full array of high end kit across all domains” as well as investment in innovation.
Fallon hailed programmes such as the F-35 as “not simply an exemplar of domestic collaboration, but of international collaboration.”
He added: “And as we look to life post-Brexit and seek to spread our wings across the world, it’s high time we do more to compete for a share of this international export market.”
Fallon said that the UK continues to perform strongly in the international defence market, securing defence orders of £5.9 billion in 2016, retaining its position as the second largest defence exporter globally over the last ten years.
“We’ve already got an enviable reputation in advanced manufacturing, we’re leaders in intelligent systems, we already build wings for half the world.” But, he said, “Now it’s time to build exportability into our thinking from the off, aligning it with the requirements of international clients, allowing for the open architecture that can plug and play with different bits of capability.”
On innovation, he noted a £3 million investment in machine learning and AI “to crunch all the big data collected by our vehicles and translate it into a four dimensional picture of the battle space” as well as a new defence innovation advisory panel which includes the former owner of a racing car company (Ron Dennis) and an astronaut (Tim Peake).
New heights, new depths
Fallon concluded saying the UK’s defence industry is moving “at pace” and is about to “hit the heights”.
However, his speech has drawn inevitable criticism. The government has regularly been pressed to defend Britain’s multi-billion-pound weapons industry and the hosting of the controversial DSEI event, dubbed “the world’s biggest arms fair”.
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, director of Amnesty International’s arms control programme, said: “For 25 years, close cooperation with our EU partners has brought about an important set of safeguards to help prevent arms sales that risk fuelling human rights violations.
“Michael Fallon’s remarks are the clearest signal yet that when it comes to UK-manufactured weapons, Brexit could mean a watering down of safeguards, more reckless arms sales and in turn greater civilian suffering around the world.”
Earlier in the week, the government put out a new foreign policy and defence position paper on its post-Brexit strategy, saying it would contribute military assets to EU operations, cooperate on sanctions and agree joint positions on foreign policy as part of a “deep security partnership” with the EU after Brexit.
ADS CEO, Paul Everitt said the paper was good news for the UK and for industry. He said: “The UK is making a generous offer here…Defence and security is important to us all and this, to a certain extent, should be above the politics.”
Ahead of the paper’s release, the Liberal Democrats said the prospect of an “extreme” Brexit threatened to leave the UK “isolated on the world stage”.
Watch our video interview with Paul Everitt here.