Defence Minister James Cartlidge DSEI 2023 Keynote Speech

Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge delivers his keynote speech at Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2023 at ExCel London

James Cartlidge MP

It’s a really important time to be hosting DSEI.

We’ve recently published our Defence Command Paper Refresh.

We’ve got a new Defence Secretary and the international environment is more complex and dangerous than ever before.

Yet the companies in this room, as the strap line of this great exhibition puts it, are powering progress.

So first I want to applaud all the fantastic firms behind the firepower. You are a Defence capability in your own right.

And in the past eighteen months you’ve been at the forefront of support for Ukraine.

Delivering the vital capabilities needed to push back the merciless Russian invader.

Whether state-of-the-art missiles or hundreds of thousands of rounds munitions.

But, and this is an issue that is consistently raised with my constituents and parliamentary colleagues, just as we do that, we must make sure we continue ramping up our sovereign UK munition production.

So I’m pleased to say that earlier today we announced a £130 million contract which finalises an order totalling £410 million which will significantly increase the production of critical defence stocks of 155mm artillery stocks, 30mm medium calibre rounds and 5.56mm ammunition.

As well as bolstering the British Army’s heavy munitions stockpile, they will enhance the Army’s latest weapons systems and satisfy the increased demand for small arms ammunition.

This isn’t just good news for our capability.

As a result of this £410 million contract, an additional machining line will be set up in Washington, in Tyne and Wear and a new explosive filling facility will be established at Glascoed in South Wales, which I look forward to visiting very soon, all in all, creating hundreds of new jobs across the United Kingdom.

It’s yet another example and reminder that the contribution of our Defence sector to our nation is as much about prosperity as it is security.

In fact, last year, as I said in Oral Questions yesterday, this sector supported more than 200,000 British jobs directly and indirectly.

Not to mention tens of thousands of apprentices learning the skills for the future.

And together Defence binds our Union. Whether it’s frigates in Scotland. State-of-the-art satellites in Northern Ireland. AJAX vehicles in Wales or Typhoons in England. In truth, once you add in supply chains, British-made really does mean across the whole country, like the Type 45, made in Shipyards in Glasgow and Portsmouth.

So I began by thanking our industry colleagues in general but I want thank our superlative SMEs in particular.

Some of whom I’ve already had the pleasure to engage with on their stand. I was a founder of an SME myself before I came into Parliament, so I know how hard it can be to get that initial breakthrough.

But just last Tuesday at MSPO, Poland’s equivalent of DSEI, I met a huge range of Defence SMEs who were successfully exporting around the world and I look forward to meeting many more on the stands in London this week.

Ladies and Gentleman, as you follow the discovery trails that criss-cross this exhibition, you’ll be guided by past masters in subwave and wireless communication, machine learning and medical devices, autonomous systems and Deep Adaptive Intelligence to name but a few.

Proof positive that Britain isn’t just world class at developing platforms but brilliant at engineering the stuff under the bonnet, as we say. The stuff that gets the show on the road.

And the fact is if we’re going to respond to the pace of change we’re seeing in Ukraine, where new technologies are being adapted in a matter of weeks, we’re going to need this sort of innovation.

Sourcing the £100 solutions that can stop the £100 million threats in its track.

Exploiting novel technologies.

Adopting, in particular, more agile acquisition processes. A particular priority for me given my ministerial responsibilities.

And upgrading weapons systems, as we say, on the fly.

And perhaps in particular, accepting the 80 per cent solution is better than a 100 per cent solution delivered too late to make a difference.

That’s why I am happy to announce at DSEI today that we will be bringing forward an Uncrewed Systems Strategy in the coming months. It’s hugely important. It will help accelerate UK Armed Forces’ access to uncrewed systems and rapidly equipping them with innovative technology across air, sea and land.

At the same time, we must do more to tap into our SME talent base.

Our recent Defence Command Paper Refresh – backed up by £11 billion of additional investment into defence over the next five years - outlined our intentions.

First, we’ll be listening more. Since becoming Defence Minister, I’ve made it a top priority to engage UK Defence SMEs as much as possible. Holding my first SME forum in Northern Ireland at the start of Armed Forces week and the next one in Wales to be held later this month.

And I know from feedback from SMEs that one of their major causes of concern is environmental, social and governance rules. ESG, as we call it, ESG rules aren’t bad, per say, but have been applied wholly, misguidedly in relation to defence. Penalising Defence companies in a multitude of ways - from facing more expensive finance to being denied basic banking facilities. This comes from Northern Ireland, my first SME forum company there told me they’d been denied a current account because they operated in Defence.

So you only need to look around to appreciate that Defence isn’t the enemy. The sector pays back double – it creates jobs and keeps us safe.

It benefits Britain.

I’ve said what SMEs don’t want. But what they do want is to be given the respect they deserve. Because this is a good, moral cause in here, we are securing peace, defending our nation and our allies.

So a second key aspect of the Command Paper involves identifying the sub-contractors and SMEs that are of strategic importance to Defence and bringing them closer into the fold.

We’ll be recognising the importance of these companies by involving them systematically through the Defence Suppliers Forum and by launching a new supplier development programme.

These initiatives will make it easier for UK-based SMEs - inside the Defence sector or outside it – to participate in MOD projects. They’ll have more than a foot in the door. They’ll have a seat at the table.

Finally, we’re helping great British companies small and large by going big on exports.

Given we’re here at Excel at DSEI I don’t need to make the case that the UK is a major defence exporter. Last year we sold £14 billion worth of defence and security kit. But with the skill and talent at our disposal, I’m convinced we can do even better.

So we’re adopting an activist approach. Reinvigorating our whole of government response. Re-establishing a Defence Exports Inter-Ministerial Group – uniting Defence and Trade at the highest levels and driving change forward.

And we’re going to be unapologetic about the benefits of exports. It’s not Defence’s awkward cousin. Exports enhance industry, our economy and our diplomacy too.

But actually, most important of all, if replenishment is an issue, that means we need a demand signal and the biggest demand signal you can have, the better, and that means aggregate demand being bigger and that means UK demand, and exports from UK companies. We simply don’t have a big enough market otherwise to ensure we get that level of supply.

So, in future, exports won’t be a Defence after-thought but written into our acquisition DNA.

We will consider market opportunities at an earlier stage – as the Defence Command Paper Refresh said – we will make exportability integral to acquisition from the outset whilst intensifying support to vital export campaigns and inspired innovative companies.
We will utilise our UK Defence and Security Exports global market knowledge to share data across Whitehall. 

And we will start to consider new projects’ value to our partners worldwide, as well as for our own economic needs.

Above all, we will look beyond the mere the transactional. The nations I speak to are asking for deeper, more meaningful bilateral partnerships. Partnerships that support capabilities through life and help develop smarter and leaner industrial bases in key regions.

And the UK has an amazing amount to offer. If you look around us today, there are a thousand and one reasons to partner with Britain. World class capabilities. World class companies. World class skills. We’re a nation that does what it says and is trusted around the world.

Take AUKUS. Our partnership with Australia and the US – already two years old - that’s giving us much more than next generation nuclear submarines but a massively enhanced industrial base. Or consider GCAP where we’re working with Japan and Italy - not just to develop a future fighter but unleash a revolution in advanced manufacturing.

I want to help more of the countries that need us most. So today I am announcing the creation of a new coordination hub called the Partnerships Office for Strategic Defence Exports.

Drawing cross-Whitehall and industrial expertise together to prioritise and resource export opportunities. It will oversee the delivery of our brand new, business-backing, brand-Britain, Government-to-Government offer: UK Defence Partnerships.

Defence Partnerships will be nation-to-nation, with exports at their core but they will use this foundation of trust to bolster bilateral collaboration whether beefing up joint industrial capacity, integrating supply chains or cooperating more closely on critical mineral access.

Our great companies are powering progress. But our strategic partnerships will supercharge them.

Guaranteeing, in an ever more dangerous age, that we have what it takes to move faster, seize more opportunities, and take on an uncertain future with the confidence we need to succeed.

I’ve got be frank, I’ve never known more clearly, giving a speech, whether anyone can actually hear me because of the way we’re interacting but it’s been great fun and I welcome you all to DSEI 23. Thank you.

Ministry of Defence
James Cartlidge MP