A Defence Industrial Strategy for the UK

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Main Image Credit HMS Artful (left) and HMS Audacious of the new Astute-class submarine under construction at BAE's site in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Courtesy of the Royal Navy

This paper seeks to build on the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) ‘Refreshing Defence Industrial Policy’ of December 2017 by generating eight points that would be key elements of a strategy to implement its intent.

The paper's premises are that, as laid out in the 2015 National Security Strategy, it is government policy to present the UK as ‘strong, influential, global’ and, as argued in the National Security Through Technology White Paper of 2012, the freedom of a country to use its armed forces as it sees fit should be recognised as related to the ‘essence of sovereignty’, that is, critical, highly important and sensitive. In addition, government has laid a formal responsibility on the MoD to promote national prosperity.

With this as the policy imperative, the paper discusses the consequential need for the maintenance and development of a strong defence supply base within the UK. Recognising that no decision set is without risk, the paper highlights the risks associated with this policy stance, along with suggestions for their effective mitigation or management. This mitigation, the authors suggest, would augment current policy and practice.

With this background, the paper suggests that the MoD needs to go beyond seeing itself as a simple ‘customer’ as, the authors suggest, it does now, and accept its responsibility as the prime contractor for the generation of UK defence capability. As such, it would recognise broader portfolio and programme management of the sector as one of its key responsibilities. From those core points, the paper offers eight specific recommendations for government policies, behaviours and practices:

  • A commitment to sustain and strengthen national, on-shore defence design, manufacturing and support capabilities in a partnership between the MoD and industry.
  • A policy imperative to insist on the ability and technical know-how to modify imported equipment.
  • An ambition to collaborate with peer partners on capability development.
  • A commitment to design and develop UK capabilities overtly with exports in mind pre-manufacture.
  • Emphasising the place of competition among projects and the specification of their worth.
  • Commitment to proactive programme and supply-chain management within a complex portfolio.
  • Revamping sector prioritisation across defence, focusing on critical strategic industrial sectors.
  • Recognising that future defence capabilities remain technology-rich. A commitment, therefore, to an increase in funding of science and technology, especially in the pure research-phases of a development cycle, is critical. So, too, is a change of culture to champion experimentation, adaptability and early adoption of disruptive technologies.

Finally, the authors underline that if high-level policy were to be scaled back – if the UK was to no longer aspire to be globally influential or ‘strong’ and if the MoD was free to leave the pursuit of economic prosperity to others – many of the arguments and recommendations here would lose their relevance.


Professor John Louth

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Trevor Taylor

Professorial Research Fellow

Defence, Industries and Society

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