Why the defence industry is one of Britain's strongest arms post-Brexit
British engineering is some of the best, if not the best in the world. The Harrier jump jet, the first ship mounted radar systems and the ground-breaking Chobham tank armour are but a few examples from the vast archive of technologies that the United Kingdom’s defence industry can take credit for.
Indeed, with BAE systems securing a £20 Billion deal with the Australian Government for the type 26 Global Combat ship alongside a large order for over 7000 state of the art laser guided missiles from the US Department of Defence as well as plans for a seventh Astute Class submarine being unveiled the British defence industry is thriving. In 2017 BAE ranked as the third largest defence company in the world with £18.32 Billion in revenue and other British giants include Rolls-Royce and Babcock International.
However, this success is not without issue. A report in January 2016 by the BBC embarrassingly revealed that the Type 45 Destroyers, ships costing £1 billion per vessel that were meant to usher in a new standard, were suffering major engine failures due the new integrated electric propulsion system. BAE received large amounts of funding to fix this issue but 20 Months later in November 2017 MHS Diamond broke down while on a deployment in the Gulf.
As Britain emerges as a new global economy following Brexit there is a huge opportunity to develop and invest in our defence industry. The £20 Billion Australian naval contract in particular should be noted as it shows how Britain can not only succeed outside of the EU, but potentially thrive. BAE systems will undoubtedly help to lead the way in this regard. However, we must ensure that our nation’s leading defence company does not fall short.
If we do not take this opportunity, then we are at huge risk of falling into the trap of iron triangles. This is the phenomenon that plagues the United States Department of Defense where politicians make deals with defence companies to create jobs in their local areas and gain votes. The defence companies are then rewarded with hugely lucrative government contracts provided by those they help to get into office.
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is the largest and most recent example of how this can go horribly wrong. Started in 2006 this fighter was meant to be the next generation of Combat was supposed to be an international American lead project that would revolutionise what an aircraft could do in the same manner of the Harrier three decades ago. This, however, is not the case, Lockheed Martin in the development of this aircraft have consistently gone over budget and missed deadlines. Not predicted now to be finished until 2025, It has become the single most costly project undertaken by the US in history with experts predicting it was have cost a grand total of $1.5 Trillion. There has been additional anger over the fact that it's publicised cost has more than doubled from £77 million per unit at the project's inception to £155 million. The monumental embarrassment caused by this project is made worse by the unwillingness of Congress to end its funding due to the vested interests of those in office.
But do not think somehow that the Ministry of Defence not also capable of making these glaring oversights. In the 1980s the Ministry of Defence decided that it wanted to replace the now aging SLR sterling submachine gun with a singular state-of-the-art general-purpose assault rifle. It was from this project that the SA80 was born. A rifle that was so ineffective at the time of its introduction 1985 that returned the nickname of the 'Civil Servant' as it " didn't work and couldn't be fired". However, the vested interests of politicians and civil servants won out over the needs of our armed forces as the government couldn't admit having effectively wasted over £400 million. The SA80 Mark 2 did improve greatly on the Mark 1 because, as Jeremy Clarkson once said: " it worked". But many military experts still argue that using rifles such as the Belgian made FN scar would be superior.
Considering all of this perhaps the most logical solution is for the Ministry of Defence to be far more competitive in how it awards contracts for new military hardware and development of innovative technologies. The £20 Billion increase in defence spending suggested by Gavin Williamson would be an invaluable asset to the British defence industry, allowing it to rapidly expand in the coming years while also providing our armed forces with the equipment they need. This in turn will provide companies such as BAE and Rolls Royce with the opportunity to demonstrate their arsenal of skills and innovative ideas. Reminding their detractors and competitors why they became a world leader in the first place.