Gavin Williamson – 2018 Speech on Modernising Defence

Below is the text of the speech made by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Defence, in the House of Commons on 25 January 2018.

I undertook to return to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to update hon. and right hon. Members on the programme to modernise defence, which the Ministry of Defence will be conducting in the months ahead.

Following agreement of the high-level findings of the national security capability review by the National Security Council, I have agreed with the Prime Minister and Chancellor that we should take forward its recommendation for a programme of further work to modernise defence to deliver better military capability and value for money in a sustainable and affordable way. This is essential if defence is to make its full contribution to national security.

The 2015 national security strategy and strategic defence and security review set out a clear ambition to ensure that the armed forces can tackle the threats that we face. It also proposed important new policy initiatives, including a stronger international approach, pursuit of innovation, modernised personnel policies and defence making a bigger contribution to our national prosperity, and we are making real strides to unlock greater efficiency and productivity.

Protecting the United Kingdom and our people remains our first priority and responsibility. As the threats we face become more complex and intertwined, we will need to work ever more closely with our NATO allies. We can also expect to remain actively involved with our partners in the Gulf in tackling shared threats to our security, and the Asia-Pacific region will become more important to us in the years ahead. The Ministry of Defence is making a major contribution to our prosperity as we procure the equipment our armed forces deserve and support defence exports, in which there have been recent successes, most notably the £6 billion Typhoon contract agreed with Qatar.

Significant events last year—the callous terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, and the major storms that ravaged British dependencies in the Caribbean—are reminders of our wider responsibilities. We need to contain threats that have their origin overseas and be prepared to react swiftly and effectively when crises arise. As we identified in 2015, this will require the joint force we are building to be versatile and agile. It will need to be capable of operating in all five domains: land, sea, air, space and cyber. It will need to be international by design, routinely exercising and operating with allies and partners. It will need to be credible and capable of operating against state and non-state threats—normally not alone but with NATO allies and other partners, but we must also be able to act on our own if and when required. It must be able to contribute to our national security at home, working with the police and other national security organisations.

While the major elements of our plans for Joint Force 2025 remain the right ones, in order to secure competitive advantage over our potential adversaries we need to ensure that we can move quickly to strengthen further our capabilities in priority areas and reduce the resources we devote elsewhere.​
The Government commissioned the national security capability review to ensure that we have the policy and plans to implement our national security strategy, so that our investment in national security capabilities is as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible to address current national security challenges. A report will be published later in the spring.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her recent Lord Mayor’s banquet speech, the threats, risks and challenges have become more complex and intertwined and have developed in areas and ways that we broadly expected, but at a much greater pace than was foreseen. The defence budget is £36 billion this year—the fifth largest defence budget in the world—and it will increase by £1 billion each year so that it will be almost £40 billion by 2021. The UK remains one of the few countries to exceed NATO’s 2% spending target, and this Government have committed to continue to increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year. However, we must do more to ensure that we use our resources effectively and deliver the efficiencies that the Department has committed to, so that they can be reinvested in the capabilities we require for our armed forces.

It is for these reasons that I have agreed with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to launch the modernising defence programme so that we can strengthen and modernise the armed forces to meet the threats that the NSCR identified. Modernising defence will allow us to deliver better military capability and value for money in a sustainable and affordable way, and it will allow us to ensure that defence capabilities complement other national security capabilities in the most effective way. I am determined to realise this goal through a modernised, more productive and more effective joint force that can deter threats more effectively and ensure that we can deliver what is required of defence today and succeed in any future conflicts. Turning this approach into reality will be my key goal for the modernising defence programme.

This programme will involve four strands of work. The first three will optimise how the MOD is organised and is operating, identify further efficiencies and ways to be more productive, including through an aggressive programme of business modernisation, and improve our performance on the commercial and industrial issues. The fourth strand will look at the capabilities that defence requires to contribute to our three national security objectives today and in the future, but also, most importantly, to understand the ever-changing threats that this country faces. I am determined to use the modernising defence programme to ensure that defence can make its full contribution to our national security on a sustainable basis.

I will speak to right hon. and hon. Members about this programme of work on a very regular basis, and I will keep the House updated as decisions are made. In the meantime, I would warmly welcome any contributions that right hon. and hon. Members would like to make. My Department and I will be consulting beyond the House as this programme of work gets under way in the weeks ahead.

Protecting our national security and the safety of the British people both at home and abroad remains the Government’s first priority. Let us make no mistake—the world is becoming a more dangerous place. We cannot afford to shy away from this reality, nor can we take our ​security for granted. But even more than that, in a post-Brexit world Britain must continue to champion the global good. It must continue to reach out to seize global opportunities and deal with global threats. Our history teaches us that we cannot have prosperity without security. To protect that prosperity we must have armed forces primed and ready to tackle the challenges to come.