Defence Secretary Ben Wallace states UK is open for business and has capability to tackle global security threats during DSEI keynote

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said Britain had the industrial base and capacity to deal with global security threats and called for the return of local pride in manufacturing during his keynote session at DSEI.

The Minister said: “If you’re going to take home one message from the UK, it is this – we are global. We are alive to the global threats. And we have the world class industrial base and the game-changing capability to deal with the danger.”

Wallace described the success of the UK’s defence and security sector as “a story seldom told.” He outlined the challenges of “selling” defence to the wider Government as armed forces operated beyond the UK’s horizons or below the ocean. During his speech he said the sector operated “upstream” and was instead focused on “keeping danger away from these shores.”

Sector worth more than £19bn

Wallace outlined the sector’s economic contribution: “This is a sector that brings in sales worth more than £19bn to our economy,” he said. “A sector that is the second largest in the world – accounting for 19 per cent of global export value over the past decade. A sector that according to reports supports around 260,000 jobs directly and indirectly in the UK.”

He added that jobs within the sector were also distributed widely across the UK, describing the sector as “the spine of our nation, spreading wealth across our entire union from the South of England to the North of Scotland.”

UK combats global terrorism threats

Wallace was making his keynote speech exactly 18 years after 9/11. “For many it was the first awakening of the full horror of global terrorism,” he said. “But it was because of our investment in defence, because of the strength of our capability, that the UK was able to fight alongside our allies. And because of key procurement decisions we were able to operate side-by-side across the globe.”

The Minister gave the examples of British security involvement, from the fight with Daesh to identification of nerve agents deployed against British civilians by Russia to humanitarian aid operations in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

He praised the “strength and depth” of the British defence industry: “We don’t just make the big platforms. We machine engineer the parts. We shape the electronic systems behind them. We devise the niche capability and we innovate with the very best.”

The Minister highlighted the work of innovative companies including Reaction Engines of Oxfordshire which was currently building a hypersonic engine capable of reaching orbit.

Defence spending budget to increase to £41bn

Wallace reiterated an increase to the Defence budget, which had secured an extra £2.2 billion. An increase of 2.6 per cent above inflation between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

He said this was “well above” the government’s commitment to grow the defence budget by 0.5 per cent above inflation every year of this Parliament. The budget is set to rise to more than £41 billion by 2020/21, marking the first time the budget has topped the £40bn mark. The spending commitment will also ensure the UK meets the NATO commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on Defence.

Programme to tackle rogue drones

He said the Government was committed to investing in key capabilities such as offensive cyber, nuclear deterrent and shipbuilding. Within the air domain, this included tackling the issue of rogue drones which had disrupted air traffic at both Gatwick and Heathrow last year.

Wallace announced a three-year programme which would start from early next year with the RAF working in partnership with Leonardo on systems to detect, track, identify and defeat rogue drones as the technology continued to evolve.

He added that the UK had already signed a statement of intent with Italy who, alongside Sweden, were supporting joint working on the Tempest and the UK’s Future Combat Air Strategy. Wallace said the UK would also be strengthening its capabilities in cyber security.

Made in Barrow or Birkenhead

Concluding the speech, he referred to Britain as a “nation of makers” and called for the renewal of a sense of local pride within manufacturing. He said DSEI demonstrated the “limitless” potential of the sector but added that seizing the opportunities would mean the UK would have to “think big.”

“My vision for Defence is one that returns pride to the places in which things are made,” he said.

“A vision where our kit is wanted not simply because it carries a stamp saying made in Britain. But because it carries a stamp that proudly proclaims made in Barrow or made in Birkenhead. It’s a vision where every part of the country is famed for its particular brand of expertise from air to autonomy.”

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter