Penny Mordaunt – 2019 Speech at the Air and Space Power Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State for Defence, at the Air and Space Power Conference on 18 July 2019.

Firstly, I want to pay tribute to the Chief of the Air Staff and say thank you. When I first met Stephen I was MinAF and he helped shape the ambition that was in the 2015 SDSR.

He secured that equipment programme but he has always known that it was secondary to investing, developing and looking after our people.

Sir Stephen, the diversity of the force, the longevity of service, the excellence of the operation are testament to that. You understand the importance of this because you’ve seen just about every side of life there is to the RAF. Your father was in the RAF. You gained your pilot’s licence in the Air Cadets – how important that organisation has proved to be in the lives of so many! He went on to a most distinguished career winning the DFC and being knighted in the process, perhaps all of this made more special by his service at so many lower levels.

Stephen, I share your priorities, which is why decent pay, an end to lawfare and a focus on forces families have formed much of my two months at the MOD as Secretary of State.

We need the best people, we need diversity of thought and great leadership, to recognise, attract and retain talent, for personnel to be at their best.

Training is incredibly important. But the RAF – like all the services – is about something much more – inspirational leadership. This is needed because the demands we make of our people are so great. We challenge them on all four axes – physically, spiritually, intellectually and yes, emotionally.

You don’t need me to tell you that we live in changed times. It’s not enough that we have technical change, creating capabilities at lightning speed. It’s not enough that we have massive political change. This is as true domestically, as it is geopolitically. It’s not enough that we have massive economic change – with global flows of capital promoting multilateral mergers and acquisitions of our civilian support organisations. It’s no wonder that national governments with their bureaucratised, traditional structures are struggling to cope.

I can’t stop any of these changes and nor can any of us. What I can say though is that national, governmental and commercial advantage all comes down to one thing – how fast and how adaptable our response is and how we are able to use the great strengths we have as a nation to project power and use our influence to best advantage.

The challenge of this age is that the threats are complex, multilateral, asymmetric and constantly changing. Even the last SDSR underestimated the speed at which the threats we face today would develop. And that means the task facing our military is growing enormously.

But the biggest threat to us is not the Russians or Daesh, but potentially, our own political thinking. Throughout history we’ve seen this. We know about the stagnation of the Western Front in World War One. The folly of fixed defences in World War Two. We’ve also seen the change from air-launched, strategic deterrents, to submarine-based ones. And the importance of combined service operations in recovering the Falklands.

For each generation, the lesson must be learnt. Our forces implement our political thinking on the battlefield. If that thinking is outdated, then their weapons will be, too.

When we’re not operating “hot” we lose the emphasis on adaption and innovation. We must ensure in “cooler” times we continue to learn and drive towards becoming even more effective and prepared. This applies as much to politics as it does to economics.

Another threat to our forces is short-term financial thinking. And this is not just in the shortcomings of equipment. Investment in our military is a long-term investment in social mobility, in education, in industry, policing, medicine and international diplomacy. The MOD doesn’t have a KPI of Total Shareholder Returns because it’s balance sheets runs over decades. And Space is a perfect example of this. It underpins everything from the development of the computer chip to the internet.

We owe our military so much – and not just because of the past. It’s also one of the most exciting places to be for the future. It’s also an investment in the pride our country feels today. To understand this, we need to be situationally fluent. We have to recognise that nationalist politics are returning us to the nation state at the same time as commercial economics are moving us in the opposite direction.

Capital is becoming ever more international, while politics is becoming ever more local. I make no value judgment of this. I’m signpost, not a weathervane. It’s the supranational regional bodies receding, we’re returning back to the age of national resilience, but international cooperation remains vital. And if we’re to adapt to this new age we need to enhance our strategic thinking.

We need to remember that while Defence keeps the peace, it, and all the components of our National security, also strengthens our global ties and helps our prosperity. So we must ensure that we assist the decision makers responsible for our national security.

So much of the work of the intelligence services is reliant on the contributions that defence makes. In the future, I want our offer to be more comprehensive in this respect which is why I’ve recently introduced a new situational awareness briefing at the MODs weekly drumbeat, briefing Defence ministers…on what’s going on in the wider world.

We need to be aware, not just of aggressive acts, or changes in territory or defence procurement. But in financial flows, mergers and acquisitions, markets, prices, health, human security and the resulting impact on our interests.

Why? Because We’ve moved beyond hot wars or cold wars to a new age of ‘sombre’ wars conducted in the shadows, on the dark web, in the business world, space and often remote from what we’ve known of the battlefield. This remains invisible to our patrons most of the time. But it is we who operate in this zone on a daily basis who must ironically have the greatest vision for the future. We have also the greatest readiness.

And part of that readiness requires our partnerships to be deeper and more long-term. So, we must take a new industrial approach to build tomorrow’s military success Earlier in my tenure, I outlined how we need to take our industrial partnership forward, to build on the learnings of carrier alliance, and on our operations. In my sea power speech I touched on Building British, buying British to get better at selling British…

In my land power speech – I spoke of fusion of conventional capabilities with cyber…But more is needed if we are to be as nimble as we need to be in the future…Our new industrial strategy must recognise that nations who protect their commercial systems make them the ‘go-to’ places for business. Is it any wonder that there is a wholesale exodus of business from jurisdictions where Intellectual Property is routinely stolen?

We are rightly concerned about protecting our goods in the Straits of Hormuz. But in the future data flows will exceed those of physical goods. How are we going to make sure we will protect those goods and that information? My vision is not just for a country which is at peace and where our people walk free from fear, but for a place where all rights of our citizens can be protected…intellectual property to online identity. Our democracy needs this. And if we are to compete around the world, then global Britain demands this.

We must change Whitehall, our processes to protect the UK as an area in which to conduct business safely and free from interference. And we must join this up with HMGs wider objectives. We need to have orchestrated centres of excellence eg Where is drone HQ for this government? If we can’t say where, how do we know we’re making the most of the RnD funding, what we are investing – in each service, in each department, company or university? For each sector, I want us to have a clear understanding of how it fits with the UK’s prosperity agenda.

So, I am looking at setting up a New entity in the Department to look at the spin offs from Research and Development in Defence

And we should be a leading player in space. It won’t just help strengthen our industries. It’ll also provide an incredible opportunity to capture the imagination of a new generation and encourage them to get involved in aerospace.

Fifty years on from the moon landings we’re seeing SpaceX and other private sector individuals and leaders coming into the sector and making use of the technology. From satellite launches to more ambitious projects. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, the first humans will walk on Mars. And this year we might see the first routine tourist flights into space.

Richard Branson is striving to lead that incredible development. Virgin Orbit has already pilots with astronaut wings. It’s currently undertaking pioneering research into launching small satellites into space from the wing of a Boeing 747.

And just last week, Virgin Orbit completed a landmark ‘drop test’ of a rocket at 35,000 feet to test the separation of rocket and aircraft during launch. Science fiction is becoming science fact. One day I want to see RAF pilots earning their space wings and flying beyond the stratosphere.

So today, I can announce we’re making a giant leap in that direction by working towards placing a Test Pilot into the Virgin Orbit programme. Sending a bold signal of Global Britain’s aspiration…and showing that if you join our RAF…you will join a service where you can become an aviator or an astronaut…where you will help push back the frontiers of space and create a launch pad to the stars.

As discussed earlier, the successful military powers of the future are going to be the ones that most easily and quickly assimilate change to their advantage.

Seven years ago, following Lord Levene’s review, we established Joint Forces Command. We understood that Defence needed a joint organisation to do the things the services individually could not. We realised too, we needed to strengthen the link between experience in operational theatres and top-level, decision-making.

Since then, JFC has done an incredible job bringing together joint capabilities like medical services, training, intelligence, information systems and cyber operations. It’s work has stood the test of time. But our future Joint Organisation must step up to some new challenges…taking on greater responsibility as we adjust to the demands of the future contested environment.

Today we’re seeing state and non-state actors alike operating in that ‘sombre’ zone below the threshold of war…unconstrained by previously accepted norms…using all tools in their armoury…and weaponising information… to catch us off guard to destabilise our societies and our support systems. If we’re to respond, we must have strategic integration across the five war fighting domains – land, air, sea, space and cyber.

That’s why today I can announce that we’re transforming JFC into Strategic Command. Much more than just a name change…this will be a bespoke organisation…supporting Head Office…helping Defence think strategically…assisting our transformation programme…and taking responsibility for a range of strategic and defence-wide capabilities. Combined with its oversight of our global footprint, it will continue enabling our operations and providing critical advice on force development.

I’ve spoken about the contested environment. And the threats that are intensifying across all domains. And in space, too.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon some fifty years ago, operations in space seemed otherworldly. Yet today our Armed Forces depend upon space to provide them global communications, critical intelligence, surveillance and navigation tools, while satellites underpin our national banking, transport and communication networks. And our competitors are doing all they can to disrupt access to these services.

China has tested hit-to-kill interceptor missiles increasing deadly debris and threatening every sovereign space enterprise. Russia is conducting sophisticated on-orbit activities…developing missile interceptors to threaten satellites and electronic warfare systems to jam satellite signals. And non-state actors and cyber hackers have the potential to scramble satellite data and manipulate earth observation data to gain advantage.

The UK must be ready to face these dangers. And Defence must play its part. We can, and we will. But we know we cannot compete in this contested and dangerous world alone.

This government has consistently said we must work more with our international partners. This will bring our unique skills in the UK and experience into closer alliances to multiply the effects we can have.

That’s also why today I can announce we have become the first international partner in the US-led Operation Olympic Defender. This will be an international coalition formed to strengthen deterrence against hostile actors in space and prevent the spread of space debris in orbit. In the next 18 months, the UK will be sending eight people to the Combined Space Operations Center in California to support this operation.

But space is not just fraught with incredible dangers, it’s also a domain of incredible opportunity that we must seize with both hands. So today I’m also announcing we’re investing £30m to launch a small satellite constellation within a year. These small, low orbiting satellites can be sent into space more cost-effectively than their predecessors and can be fixed or replaced more quickly. The programme will eventually see live high resolution video beamed directly into the cockpit of our aircraft providing pilots with unprecedented levels of battle awareness.

To support this state-of-the-art system, the RAF has founded Team ARTEMIS, a transatlantic team of UK and US defence personnel to launch the constellation and undertake research into the wider military uses of small satellites. Given the vastness of the challenge, this might seem a relatively small-scale initiative. But effectively we’re planting the acorns from which the future oaks will grow. Critically, British industry is already a world-leader in these innovative technologies.

Last year we invested £4.5 million in the Carbonite 2 spacecraft which has already sent detailed imagery and footage back to Earth from orbit. One UK company alone based in Surrey is making 40% of the world’s small satellites. So this is a bold statement by the MOD. Showing our determination to invest in our Global Britain, taking military capability further and faster and demonstrating our ambitions are not limited to the skies.

So, the modern security environment is contested, congested, competitive and entangled. But the UK is changing. And defence is changing too. And, alongside our investment in space, we’re investing in air in a big way. Bringing more F-35s online and into the fight.

But just as we’re not naïve about today’s threats, nor are we complacent about what’s to come. That’s why we are ahead of the pack in developing a new capability…the Tempest…that will take to the skies within the next two decades.

Our Typhoons and F-35s will deter our enemies today. The Tempest will make them doubt their future. But, every part of the Defence machine, needs to keep pace with the modern world if we’re to keep deterring tomorrow’s dangers.

Upgrading our Typhoons and arming them with Storm Shadow cruise missiles, Meteor air-to-air missiles and the Brimstone precision strike weapon is also part of this.

I won’t go exhaustively through the complete inventory…it would take too long to list…but it’s worth touching on just some of the capabilities coming on stream.

Poseidon Maritime Patrol aircraft…able to patrol thousands of miles of the North Atlantic without rest while bringing hundreds of jobs to that region.

Our five E-7s…replacing our current E-3D Sentry…giving us the finest airborne early warning systems around. And within a year, swarming drones able to confuse and overwhelm enemy air defences.

In other words, in the face of growing threats, we will continue to take the bold action that’s necessary. Investing now to stay ahead of the pace of technological acceleration – strengthening our strategic command of the battle space. Reinforcing our commitment to the space arena…and laying the foundations for our future industry…And by joining together with our allies to defend our sovereign interests – whether in the skies or in the upper atmosphere – making sure that…come what may…Britain will be ready to face the future confident of our success.

So we need strategic thinking. We need true situational awareness. We need new strategic partnerships and a new industrial strategy. All fused by a new Strategic Command to deploy new capabilities.

And we should remember that all our military personnel fight with weapon systems, but also the civilian structures, organisations and infrastructure we give them. All of this – all of it – is the product of a previous generation’s political thinking. So it’s not just helpful if the thinking is clear, joined-up and far-sighted. Young lives are depending on it, so the thinking better be more than good. It better be bloody brilliant.