Defence Minister's speech at Full Spectrum Air Defence Conference
Defence Procurement Minister, James Cartlidge delivered a speech at the Full Spectrum Air Defence Conference in London
We are continuing to learn the lessons of the war in Ukraine all the time, in real time, but the centrality of full spectrum air defence is absolutely, as far as we’re concerned, undeniable.
Indeed, the dangers we confront today – it’s absolutely self-evident - are no longer hypothetical. This is the key change that’s happened since the invasion. Russia has brought war to Europe’s doorstep and the conflict in Ukraine provides a dark mirror of the future threat environment that we need to consider.
We’ve witnessed the use of new technologies in combination – precision strike capabilities, hypersonic missiles, and low-cost UAVs.
We’ve seen the deployment of new tactics – from GPS spoofing to coordinated cyber-attacks and kinetic strikes on Ukraine’s early warning systems and communications.
But, worst of all, and the ultimate reason we’re here, Russia has proved to be a nation utterly unconstrained by the rules of war or the laws of morality. Whether targeting civilian infrastructure, committing a litany of human rights abuses, or even disregarding their own duty of care to their own people. And so, as the UK’s Defence Procurement Minister I am committed to ensuring that as the threats change so must our responses to them.
So, today the UK and our allies face a real challenge. We must regrow our capabilities to protect ourselves across air, land and space, and sea.
To defend against multiple threats simultaneously. And to do so at pace. Knowing that the dangers we’re facing are no longer evolving over decades but over months. So, our challenge is to make the whole of our UK Defence enterprise more versatile. Imbuing it with the flexibility to counter shifting threats and adjust to new technologies.
Our Integrated Review refresh and forthcoming Defence Command Paper will set out how we’re going to deliver full spectrum air defence for the 21st century. Thankfully much of this activity is obviously already underway.
So, what’s happening?
On land our Army is modernising its Ground-Based Air Defence to make sure our personnel and allies are much better protected and better connected.
Some of you will be familiar with Sky Sabre, our beyond line-of-sight medium range capability. Unprecedented in speed, performance, and target acquisition, so accurate that it can apparently hit a tennis ball sized object travelling at the speed of sound.
And it is so agile it can control the flight of 24 missiles simultaneously whilst in flight, guiding them to intercept 24 separate targets.
Sky Sabre is forecast to reach full operational capability later in the year and we plan to increase the number of our launchers to equip the whole of 16th Regiment Royal Artillery.
At the same time, we’re extending our Short-Range High Velocity and Lightweight Multirole missiles until 2035. Otherwise known as Starstreak and Martlet, these world class missiles have received rave reviews in Ukraine where they have proved a potent weapon against fixed wing aircraft, support and attack helicopters and Uncrewed Air Systems and Cruise Missiles. Their Laser Beam riding technology is now highly in demand.
We’ll be building on these current capabilities to support our armoured and air assault brigade combat teams. Our programme will deliver a new mounted platform – equipped with active sensor radars – to replace our ageing Stormer vehicles for operations in forward areas.
We’re also developing kit to counter small air targets such as rockets, missiles, and loitering munitions like the Shahed and Lancet currently used by Russia in Ukraine.
From late October we will be arming our very high readiness light forces with new weapons to detect and destroy small UAS threats that are prevalent across all modern battlefields.
Indeed, interesting to see a lot of that type of kit being promoted in the foyer. Significantly, these are not one-off Urgent Capability requirements. This is enduring capability that can be spirally developed in response to evolving dangers.
In fact, this week I announced that the MOD had placed a framework contract worth up to £20 million with Viking Arms Ltd to procure the SmartShooter Smart Weapon Sight Fire Control System. Known otherwise as SMASH. It will give any dismounted soldier the ability to achieve a high probability hit against micro and mini–Unmanned Air Vehicles.
Shifting to the sea domain, our Royal Navy is building its Future Air Dominance System. Likely to comprise the new Type 83 Class platforms – which will one day replace Type 45 – these are more than just ships. They are a distributed sensor network. Effectively a “system of systems”.
They will be highly automated. Blending missiles with new technologies such as Directed Energy Weapons. Incorporating both uncrewed systems and complex radar sensing capabilities. Able to raise an umbrella over our fleet, contribute to control of the air over a wider area and allow us to maintain freedom of manoeuvre through increased detection ranges.
As the name suggests, dominance is the name of the game. And dominance will be achieved through faster response times and greater lethality over longer distances.
Sticking with our present capability, we continue investing in our Sea Viper Evolution programme. Ensuring our current crop of world class warships have the air and missile defence systems to protect Maritime Task Groups against increasingly more complex threats, including ballistic missiles.
And finally switching from sea to air, where our RAF’s future fleet will not just be about Typhoon air defence and F-35 strike fighters. Or about anti-submarine and transport aircraft. It will also be about future combat systems delivered courtesy of our multi-billion-pound Global Combat Air Programme. GCAP, as I’m sure you all know.
This sixth-generation fighter will incorporate deep learning, novel sensors, next generation combat air and communications technologies. Last Thursday, I visited it in the factory in Warton and I think the key thing, as I’m sure you all appreciate, alongside all these important points is that it is creating well paid, skilled jobs and apprenticeships across the country.
Returning to the subject of Ukraine, and the crucial point of integration the defiance her armed forces have shown to date, achieved despite overwhelming odds, illuminates the importance of acting with head as well as heart.
Matching abundance of courage with tactical awareness and, in particular, a striking ability to innovate in the heat of battle. But it is in their capacity to integrate that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have truly excelled.
They have shown a unique ability to share data in real time between their units. That integrated approach has helped them build a three-dimensional picture of the battlespace allowing them to accurately target enemy units.
In a similar vein, we’ve made integration the centrepiece of our full spectrum approach.
It’s more than just a word crowbarred into the titles of our defence reviews. We’re embedding integration it into our DNA in three key areas.
First, by creating a digital ecosystem. It’s not enough to have a multitude of sensors across land, sea, air, space and cyber. We have to make sure our systems can talk to each other across multiple domains.
Thanks to our digital architecture and deployable network we have the reliability and the security to do just that. Whether GBAD, GCAP, FADS or any other acronym you care to mention – there are many in defence as you know - all will have the power to share information instantaneously online from anywhere.
To translate massive data sets into greater situational awareness and faster decision making. To locate and target an enemy more rapidly and more efficiently. All coupled, ultimately with the sensor to shooter links to destroy a wider range of rapidly evolving threats.
Secondly, we’re integrating our industrial capacity by working more closely with industry. Ukraine has brought us face to face with a new reality. One where the Defence sector must find ways not just to refill its stockpiles – a very pressing priority for me – but surge production but to innovate. We tend to think about innovation in terms of next generation weaponry – be it directed energy or drone swarms. Or we think about it in terms of incorporating AI into our arsenal to fight increasingly high-tempo wars. And innovation is about that.
But it’s also about reconciling the conflicting demands for exquisite capability on one hand, with the need for affordability and pace on the other.
Using a missile worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to take down a cheap quadcopter packed with bombs is not cost effective.
That, of course, demands a bit of blue-sky thinking. Which, in turn, means forging a new relationship with industry.
Our Defence Security and Industrial Strategy (DSIS) released a few years back has already put this partnership on a new footing. Ukraine accelerated the process. And, since then, we’ve showcased what we can do when we put our minds together.
We’ve seen MOD operating outside the standard procurement processes and simplifying contracting mechanisms. And we’ve seen industry responding by reusing existing technology, reducing Unit Production Cost, and adopting an innovative qualification process.
This innovative approach has given birth not just to new dynamic manufacturing techniques – taking existing anti-armour missile from stockpiles and spirally developing it into a ground-launched anti-armour weapon. But to new air defence capability, what’s called “re-roleing” existing air-to-air systems – moving from concept to design to delivery in just three months.
This type of innovation must become the new norm. And GCAP is setting the standard for how the future might look. It aims to deliver a revolution in manufacturing. Making the most of digital twinning to predict breakages before they happen. Utilising open architecture so we can iterate on the fly and produce a platform that can constantly renew itself. It will give us the factory of the future.
Delivering new tech at the speed we need to succeed. 2025 is the development phase. The flying phase is towards the end of the decade or early 2030s. Whichever it is, it will still be in service in half the time it took to bring forward the Typhoon.
Third, we’re integrating internationally. We recognise in a more challenging environment, no nation can afford to go it alone. So close collaboration and interoperability with our international partners is vital.
Ukraine has proven the importance of the partnership principle. International support has helped Ukraine resist the illegal invasion and shown we’re much stronger when we unite. Which is why we’re now multinational by design not merely by aspiration.
The UK has a huge track record in strategic collaboration. Consider how we are playing a leading role in NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence. As I discussed with my European counterparts in Paris last week at the Missile Defence Conference hosted by President Macron, this is a posture that embraces a multi-domain concept of operations…involving strike, active defence, and resilience, to detect, track, warn, and defeat any threat.
Consider how we’re continuing to develop our tapestry of bilateral relationships – whether it’s our world class F-35 partnership with the US, or more recent alliances with the likes of Poland.
Not only are our Polish friends currently using our Sky Sabre – alongside US Patriot – as part of their Medium Range Air Defence network. But we are also working together to support the modernisation of their Soviet-era capabilities.
Last month we signed a £1.9 billion contract with UK industry for Poland’s PILICA+ air defence upgrade – the largest ever UK defence export to Poland.
Of course, consider how we’re working tri-laterally, such as our ground-breaking AUKUS programme with the US and Australia.
Why do these partnerships work? Because they are with countries ultimately who share our values. A shared belief in justice, freedom, and free trade.
So, integration is our aspiration. But to reach the integrated goal that we have, plenty of challenges lie ahead. Challenges it will take our best minds to figure out. That’s where we want to work with you and I’m going to briefly set some of these out.
On the industrial front our challenge is to make our supply chains more resilient. We’re dealing with an increase in lead times and prices, coupled with a shortage of some components and raw materials. The Ukraine conflict has exposed the vulnerabilities of a completely globalised free market supply chain. It’s forced us to ask what more can we to stabilise and prime our supply chains.
Now MOD has already made a start. Our Supply Chain Resilience Programme is mapping the most critical supply chains to ensure the impact on delivery of Defence outputs is minimised. But there much more to do.
How can we share intelligence and best practice on common critical supply chains and materials to better understand our vulnerabilities? How can we insulate our industries so that we’re less reliant on others to provide critical minerals and semi-conductors? What industrial capabilities should we on-shore or near-shore to ensure security of supply?
On international partnerships, resilience will also be key to helping us strengthen our international partnerships. How do we create agile – less siloed structures – capable of supporting multi-domain approaches?
How do we adapt our tactics, techniques and ideas to accommodate new ways of operating? How can we make sure that nations standardise their requirements to facilitate interoperability? And how do we establish protocols that ensure we can share sensitive information between countries and make the most of big data?
I’ll just give you a specific example – I had the privilege to tend the Formidable Shield NATO exercise in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. We watched the cruise missile fire from the beach, it appeared on the screen and there were ships from many nations who shared that feed to intercept what is obviously a dummy missile. The point being, we’re going to have to work that way if we’re going to develop air defence across Europe.
So, on innovation we need to know how best to energise and optimise our enterprise. What more can we do to create a climate of creativity?
So, I ran my own SME before I entered Parliament, I have a fundamental belief in the dynamism, entrepreneurialism of people who start their own business. How can we harness that to tap into the talents of our ingenious indigenous SMEs, working alongside our primes and the supply chain.
So, to conclude. This is crucial. If you look at what’s happening in Ukraine, these questions I have posed are fundamental. And our forthcoming Command Paper will provide us with the formula for a stronger future - Defence working with you. Our adversaries are upping their game and we must do the same.
So, let’s end on a more positive note. Ukraine has not just given us a greater understanding of the capabilities of our adversaries. It has demonstrated the power we have when we stand alongside our allies.
And with the power of our coalition comes great opportunity. Opportunity not just to strengthen our defences. But to enhance our prosperity, create new jobs, enhance our skills base, and open-up new export markets. Exportability is crucial.
So, I challenge our Defence community to be more collaborative and more forward-leaning. To keep challenging the old ways of doing things. To keep testing ideas and keep taking risks.
And, above all, to keep innovating and keep integrating. In an ever more complex world, full spectrum air capabilities will define the future of defence more than ever.