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Mr. Vaizey: It was not a critical point.

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman may not want to go there, but we must bear in mind the situation that is being imposed on the present-day Government because of the decisions—poor decisions in some cases—taken by Governments past.

The Government are overseeing a substantial modernisation of our armed forces' equipment, which is supported by the longest period of sustained real growth in defence spending for more than 20 years. I believe that there can be a tendency to put too much focus on the shortcomings of legacy programmes to the detriment of the many successes that we have achieved. For example, we had the early delivery of the strategic sealift service some 20 months ahead of its target date. The mobile artillery monitoring battlefield radar was delivered six months early. The C-17 was in service three months early and only a year after selection, and the successor identification friend or foe project is five months ahead of schedule. Those are just some examples of the successes.

With industry, we need to ensure that all our equipment continues to remain cutting-edge throughout what are likely to be very long service lives. For example, the Tornado GR4 upgrade programme that was completed in 2003 and the introduction of Harrier GR9 in September this year will ensure that the capability and combat effectiveness of both those platforms will be maintained for many years to come. Furthermore, we expect Typhoon, which is now coming into service as the bedrock of the RAF's military capability, to be in service well into the 2030s and perhaps beyond.

That demands a different approach from both the Ministry of Defence and industry. The approach must shift from the up-front procurement of new generations
 
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of platforms and equipment to the ability to support them throughout their lives, which is known as through-life capability management. We require industry to be able to upgrade our equipment with new technologies and capabilities, often rapidly, in response to either operational demand, or the emergence of potentially disruptive technology. While this will need, in some cases, industrial restructuring and rationalisation, it actually represents a significant long-term business opportunity for industry and establishes careers for the highly skilled people on whom industry relies for delivery. It will also require, where we develop long-term relationships with industry, continued innovation and the use of a range of commercial tools to secure value for money.

John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my worry that the three platforms to which he referred, which will play such an important role in our future defence capability, will all be supported by a single monopoly supplier—one company? Does that raise any concerns with him when he thinks about the future needs of British defence?

Mr. Ingram: It does not raise concerns, but shows that we need to think about what we are doing, which is the whole purpose of the defence industrial strategy. My hon. Friend has got it wrong. The company to which he refers is already the monopoly prime supplier and the design authority. It has now moved its people on to the main operating bases so that they can work alongside RAF personnel with greater synergy so that we can turn round the aircraft as effectively as possible. Importantly, we retain the key skills of the design authority company so that we ensure that we have the capacity to maintain the through-life of aircraft.

My hon. Friend and I have tussled over this time and again. I have no doubt in my mind about the validity of the decision that has been taken because it was based on evidence, whether for fast jet or helicopter support systems. We have not taken a one-size-fits-all approach. In one case we have gone on to a main operating base, but in the case of Defence Aviation Repair Agency Fleetlands, we have moved towards a civilian base on which military personnel work. We must balance the best way in which we can get value for money for the taxpayer and, more importantly, the way in which we can get the best guarantee that the greatest number of aircraft is available at any one time. The evidence already shows that that is happening.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) rose—

Mr. Ingram: I will move on, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

I want to turn to the maritime sector. We are undertaking the largest naval shipbuilding programme for two generations. Both the Astute submarine and Type 45 destroyer programmes are in their manufacturing phase and we announced details last year of the industrial alliance to take forward the future carrier programme, which will deliver a step change in the power projection capability of our forces. The two new future carriers will be the two biggest warships ever
 
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to be built in the United Kingdom, and the associated work could sustain and create some 10,000 jobs across the UK during its design and manufacture period. We also announced last week our intention to work with the French Government on the demonstration phase of that project. That makes clear sense, as it allows both countries to benefit from savings on shared procurements without slowing the tempo of the project. France, as we know, will make a financial contribution to share in the investment that we have made. We have significant investment planned to develop the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as part of the military afloat reach and sustainability—MARS—programme.

New warship platforms such as HMS Daring are important, but we must be able to support them as part of our overall capability to deploy worldwide. MARS vessels will make a significant contribution to providing sea-based support for amphibious, land and air forces. While that shipbuilding capacity gives us an opportunity to invest in important skills and capabilities, there will be reduced demand in future. We therefore need to plan now with industry to ensure that the right capabilities are invested in, developed and sustained in times of reduced capacity. The maritime industry is fragmented, with high overheads and a skills base that is spread across too many different companies. The DIS analysis has challenged our previous policy, which required all warship hulls to be built onshore, the rationale being better to manage a consistent "drum beat" of shipbuilding for industry to sustain critical capabilities.

The analysis focused on what those capabilities actually are. In that context, "hulls" is too simplistic a term. We need to sustain high-end skills to design and integrate complex warships and maintain them through-life. We need to retain, too, the ability to design, manufacture and support all aspects of submarine capability. We will develop that work with industry through a maritime industrial strategy team. Our priority is to develop a stable and healthy programme to build complex warships—the "drum beat" to which I referred. It should maintain the critical capabilities, whatever the capacity of industry.

Regarding submarines, we are working to control cost growth and to identify opportunities for rationalisation in the various onshore monopolies. Submarines are a core capability for retention, but the industry is made up of a series of monopoly suppliers. With only one customer, the need to control costs in the supply chain is paramount. We are addressing that by developing a consistent work load for the sector to help industry to sustain capability and drive down costs. We are looking at new ways of doing business for surface ship support, where a longer-term relationship with industry is more likely to safeguard capabilities at value for the taxpayer. The result of that strategy will provide workers with the security to develop their skills in long-term structured and secure employment.

Turning to land systems, the armoured fighting vehicle industry provides our land forces with significant military capability. We are currently developing our plans to deliver the complex system that will make up a new family of medium-weight vehicles known as the future rapid effect system—FRES. At the same time, we need to plan ahead for the support arrangements of our existing fleet of some 5,000 vehicles, which will remain
 
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in-service for some years. That is why we announced alongside the DIS last year our plans to partner BAE Systems, which supplies 95 per cent. of our existing AFV fleet, better to manage fleet support.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I support the progress on land systems, but is there any scope to partner the Swedish Government, who are developing SEP as their equivalent to FRES? Could we try to work with the Swedes, who are collaborating with BAE Systems, to secure a joint venture?

Mr. Ingram: The DIS is innovative, so it must look at new ways of working. However, it must also retain core capabilities in this country. BAE Systems is good at identifying market opportunities, but no doubt we will hear more about the matter that my hon. Friend has raised. We need that equipment, however, and we must look at how best we can secure it.


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