Combat Air Strategy — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:05 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 3:05 pm, 27th June 2019

Yes, I know.

I heard the hon. Gentleman’s point about the replacement for the Red Arrows, but that is not a priority; there are a lot of pressures on our budget and we have to ensure that we continue some of the projects that we already have, of which he mentioned several. That said, we are not giving up on the export opportunities for Hawk and we are working closely and regularly with BAE Systems to make that happen, as I said.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Wedgetail, about which there has been a lot of debate. We did not shut out competitors because, frankly, there were none. There was no other proven capability that could provide the same level that we need and that Wedgetail provides. We could have done a longer competition, but that would have delayed the acquisition of that critical platform. The old platform has been letting us down for a long time. The one that we have is used by the Australians and has a proven capability that meets our needs. That is why we decided to go for it directly.

The hon. Gentleman rightly talked about prosperity. My right hon. Friend Mr Dunne produced that wonderful report. We are already working to many of his recommendations and we will continue to explore some of his other points. A key thing that we are doing is working closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy through the defence growth partnership and looking to create the joint economic hub, which will get the information we need as to the true value of defence to the UK economy.

The hon. Member for Leeds North East also asked about the F-35s. I confirm that we will stick to the figure of 138. I cannot indicate at this stage which variants; we will make that assessment nearer the time. I hope that answers his point.

I will return to our progress in implementing the strategy since its launch with regard to the four areas I have already touched on. We are looking at the long-term replacement of Typhoon. We delivered the strategic outline case at the end of last year and we are working hard to complete the outline business case by the end of 2020.

As all hon. Members know, £2 billion of future investment has been approved. Importantly, since the announcement 1,000 people have taken up new jobs to look at that area, and that figure will be 1,800 by the end of the year. Among the industry partners that we are directly in contact with, that includes 400 jobs at BAE Systems and 260 jobs at Leonardo all over the country. As well as securing those jobs, we are trying to demonstrate the significant technological advances that have been made, including Rolls-Royce’s demonstration of an advanced embedded electrical starter-generator in a military engine, which allows the engine to be started through electrical power rather than high-pressure air. That could allow the removal of several mechanical components in next-generation engines and could equally apply to civil aero engines, as hon. Members said.

As I said, we continue to work with the SME community and we are looking at skills. I am pleased to say that this year, Leonardo will recruit a record 104 graduates and 62 apprentices. The majority of those will be involved in the Team Tempest project and activities. Similarly, BAE Systems is training a record 3,000 young people around the UK; this year, it is planning for about 700 apprentices and 300 graduates. Again, that can be only good news.

I will not dwell on the matter much further because I am conscious that I have spoken for some time, but I hope that the launch of the combat air strategy demonstrates the Government’s commitment to looking at the future and ensuring that we keep that seamless skillset in our country. We will continue to update the House regularly as we make more progress. I confirm that detailed updates will be provided on the opening day of the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford on 19 July, and that the Secretary of State will lay a detailed statement before the House, which I hope will provide more information.

I conclude on a positive note: the strength of our combat air sector is confirmed by our recent export successes, including the sale of £6 billion-worth of Typhoons and Hawks to Qatar, and the £500 million contract that we were awarded for the avionic and aircraft component repair work for the UK’s F-35 hub in north Wales—again, creating a centre of excellence.

We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate, and I am glad to have been able to show our commitment and inform the House of the progress that has been made. The Government firmly believe that the strategy will ensure not only that the RAF retains its world-leading capability into the middle of the 21st century and beyond, but that our military aerospace sector retains its rightful position at the cutting edge of technology development across the globe.