It has been a proud and historic couple of weeks for Britain’s armed forces. Ten days ago I was up at the Rosyth shipyard when Her Majesty the Queen broke a bottle of Scotch whisky against our new aircraft carrier – 65,000 tonnes of British might to patrol the seas and keep our citizens safe.
Today, I will be at the Farnborough Airshow announcing a huge package of investment in our Armed Forces - £1.1 billion to be spent on everything from extending hi-tech surveillance aircraft to next-generation radars for our Typhoon fighter jets.
And that is not all. Other major investments are hitting the ground, sea and sky: the Voyager tanker aircraft that can offload a hundred tonnes of fuel at twice the speed of a Formula 1 pump; a fleet of Astute submarines with their world-leading sonar and stealth abilities; the Type 45 destroyers that are the UK’s most advanced warships ever.
All this is great news for our armed forces and for British defence companies – and it demonstrates three things about this Government’s approach to defence and security.
First, it shows that our prudence is paying off. The fact is this: we are only in a position to make these investments because we have been resolute in tackling the deficit – a key part of our long-term economic plan. Labour left a £38 billion black hole in the defence budget and a long list of over-running and over-budget equipment orders. Trying to build a 21st-century armed forces out of a stack of I.O.U notes must rank – in a competitive field - as one of the biggest scandals of their time in Government.
Since 2010 we have been engaged in fixing this mess. Many difficult decisions had to be taken, but we have now balanced the defence budget and set out a fully-funded equipment plan of more than £160billion over 10 years. The house that was built on sand is now built on rock, meaning that the so-called ‘underspend’ can now be re-invested. This is a crucial point; that money wasn’t taken back to be used elsewhere, it was put back into kit for our Forces, as we are seeing today. This is a remarkable turnaround and I pay tribute to Philip Hammond for overseeing it.
Second, this announcement shows we are equipping our armed forces for the conflicts of this century, not the last. The threats we face have changed utterly in 30 years – from the clarity of the Cold War to the complex and shifting challenges of today: global terrorism, organised crime, hostage taking, the risk of nuclear proliferation, cyber attack, energy security.
The enemy may be seen or unseen. So as the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 made clear, it is not massed tanks on the European mainland we need, but the latest in cyber warfare, unmanned aircraft technology and Special Forces capability.
That is what we are investing in today. The majority of the money - £800 million – is being spent on intelligence and surveillance equipment. It includes the latest in cyber defence technology and surveillance aircraft that can fly over areas like the Horn of Africa, identifying any terror threats to the UK and our allies.
Third, today’s investment demonstrates our approach to national security. There are those who believe we would be safer if we fundamentally retreated from the world. They see new warships and military investment and imagine a Government bent on foreign adventurism. But the plain fact is that in the 21st century, you cannot defend the realm from the white cliffs of Dover.
Terrorist plots hatched thousands of miles away threaten to cause harm on our streets. When fragile and lawless states fracture, migration flows can affect us right here. And of course, it is not just the realm we need to defend: our national interests go wider than that. Many of our citizens now live permanently overseas. And as an open, outward-facing nation that makes its living through trade, British interests also require open sea lanes, international stability and the alliances that help deliver these essential things.
Having a modern, technological, advanced and flexible armed forces to protect and advance these interests is not national vanity – it is national necessity. Our national interest is served by Britain playing a role in the world. That is what we are doing today - whether working with forces in Nigeria or Somalia to close down terrorist threats at source, training up the security forces in Afghanistan, or sending Royal Navy warships to the Gulf to ensure vital trade routes remain open. We need to maintain this ability – to advance our interests and see off threats – and that is why we are making these further investments today.
Of course, the best thing we can have in our armoury is our allies, and at the NATO Summit in Wales this September we will be building on those relationships. Our commitment to investing in our armed forces is at the heart of the leading role the UK takes in NATO – whether it is sending Typhoons to the Baltic Air Policing Mission or taking part in training exercises in Eastern Europe, the UK has the capability to play its part. As one of only 4 countries to have met the NATO target to spend 2 per cent of our GDP on defence, we will be urging our allies to follow suit, with this clear message: in an unstable world, when you have multiple events unfolding – be it the Russia-Ukraine crisis, war in Syria, or the situation in Iraq – we need to be ready for any eventuality, and ready together.
For today, we can celebrate this huge investment in the future of our Armed Forces. It will give our troops the best kit; it will advance our interests around the world; and it means a better, more secure future for Britain and the British people.
This article was published in the Daily Telegraph.