Combat Air Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 1:30 pm, 17th July 2018

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it. May I pay tribute to the former Defence Procurement Minister, Guto Bebb, who was forced to resign last night for supporting the Prime Minister’s position on Brexit?

Our aerospace and defence sectors are truly world leading and are vital to our security and national prosperity. We welcome the publication of the combat air strategy, but might it not have been better to publish an overarching defence industrial strategy to give the wider industry the certainty it requires? If the Secretary of State’s Department will not do that, will it publish a land strategy sometime in the near future?

A key aspect of the combat air strategy is the creation of a project to consider how to deliver next-generation capability. I am not quite sure how the Government adopted the name “Team Tempest”, but it seems apt this week. The Secretary of State has been clear that the future approach hinges on international collaboration, so what discussion has he had with allies about this project? Has he considered the impact that partnering with non-NATO nations could have on our interoperability?

This strategy has been published at a time of great uncertainty in the aerospace industry about the impact of Brexit. Does the Secretary of State agree with the assessment of the industry, the trade body ADS and Members from across the House that the UK must be in a customs union to guarantee the industry’s future success?

The Secretary of State said that he wants to see the Tempest fly alongside the Typhoons and the F-35s. Will he confirm how many F-35s the Government plan to buy, in what timeframe and which variant they will be?

Rumours abound that the UK’s future airborne warning and control system capability will be gifted to a company without competition, just as the mechanised infantry vehicle was. Does the Secretary of State agree that that would be a hypocritical approach, when his defence industrial policy refresh emphasised the importance of competition? Can he confirm that there will be an open competition for the UK’s future AWACS capability?

Members from across the House, our industrial partners and our allies are all eagerly awaiting the publication of the modernising defence programme. We were told that we would get the headlines before last week’s NATO summit, and then we were told that it would be out before the summer recess. In the light of the Government’s proposed new parliamentary timetable, will it be tomorrow or Thursday?