Defence Technology Development

Defence – in the House of Commons on 7th November 2022.

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Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

What steps his Department is taking to develop innovative defence technology.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

What steps his Department is taking to develop innovative defence technology.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Successful innovation delivers military effectiveness and advantage, which is why the Ministry of Defence works closely with UK industry and academia, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to identify and invest in innovative technologies that address our most pressing capability challenges, as well as publishing our future priorities to incentivise investment. We are already testing and deploying those technologies, building on the work I saw last week at MOD Abbey Wood.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

It is very good to see my hon. and learned Friend in his place. I welcome the world-leading investments the Government have made in new technology to combat the threats in the space and cyber realms, but can he assure me that the necessary investment in those new areas acts to complement, not replace, our conventional forces, and that they are also seeing record investment, modernisation and improvement?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Our forces must be able to adapt to meet the threats set out in the integrated review. As my hon. Friend rightly said, that includes those relating to the space and cyber domains. The £6.6 billion being invested in research and development over the four years of this spending review period provides the opportunity to modernise and adapt to meet these new threats, while complementing and in some cases even enhancing the lethality of our conventional forces.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

Does the Minister share my concern that any reduction in defence spending will harm our nascent defence manufacturing industry? What steps can be taken to safeguard our future innovation, development and exports?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with such authority on these matters. The UK is the largest defence spender in NATO in Europe. That commitment provides the capacity to invest in decisive battle-winning technology now and in the future. The defence and security industrial strategy sets the framework for a strategic relationship with industry, including the need to regard our defence and security industries as strategic capabilities in their own right. We are already seeing a shift towards increasing weight being given to industrial implications ahead of investment decisions.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

Reductions in defence spending are not what is hampering our security and defence; it is the fact that we need an increase in defence spending to ensure that we have better security and defence in this country. That is particularly important if we are to develop and keep ahead of our competitors on new technology, not least artificial intelligence. Is the Minister confident that, through the negotiations that we discussed with the Secretary of State last week in the Defence Committee, we will get some sort of increase in the defence budget and that that will be inflation-proofed?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to allocate proper resources to keep this country safe. The Prime Minister was absolutely clear when he was campaigning and since he has been in office that he will give this country what it needs to keep our people and our allies safe. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that we are the largest defence spender in NATO in Europe. That position serves this country and our allies.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I welcome the Minister to his place. Following the Defence Committee’s findings that the lack of progress in the space domain in the UK is unacceptable, what are Ministers doing to prioritise the publication of the space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme’s conclusions?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

This country is ahead of the game. We have published the space strategy. We will continue to ensure that work in these new domains—we have spoken about cyber, but space is included—is in place so that we can support and enhance the capability of our conventional forces, and we will ensure that we lead the way in space.