Politics

Britain Must Be A 'Hard Power', Defence Secretary Says

Gavin Williamson also announced the development of two new littoral vessels into the Royal Navy.

Gavin Williamson has unveiled his plans to modernise the Armed Forces in what was billed as a major defence speech.

The Defence Secretary has warned over a "resurgent" Russia and revealed plans to buy two new ships for the Royal Navy.

Gavin Williamson also confirmed swarm drones will be purchased for the Royal Air Force.

In a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, he outlined a number of key areas to enhance Britain as a "hard power".

Royal Air Force Reaper RPAS
Swarm drones are to be purchased for the Royal Air Force (Picture: MOD).

On the subject of Russia, he linked the country to terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS:

"Not only are we confronting a state like Russia, an ideological enemy without a state - like Al-Qaeda and Daesh - but the very character of warfare itself is changing."

He also confirmed HMS Queen Elizabeth's first operational mission will take in the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over navigation rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

F-35B first landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth
The carrier and F-35 jets from the UK and US will take part in the deployment which will also take in the Mediterranean and the Middle East (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Following Brexit, Mr Williamson said Britain should look to reaffirm its role in defence, whilst also looking to build on its relationships with alliances as well as developing new ones.

He said Brexit is giving Britain's its "greatest opportunity" for 50 years:

"As we leave the European Union, and the world changing so rapidly, it is up to use to seize the opportunities that Brexit brings. 

"We will build new alliances, rekindle old ones and most importantly make it clear that we are the country that will act when required."

"We should be the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership.

Setting out the changing nature of international relations, Mr Williamson said actions by China and Russia had "blurred" the boundaries between peace and war.

HMS Argyll with USS McCampbell and USNS Henry J Kaiser in South China Sea
HMS Argyll with the US Navy's USS McCampbell carrying out joint drills in the South China Sea (Picture: Royal Navy).

Britain and its allies must be prepared "to use hard power to support our interests".

He also insisted that NATO must be prepared to face up to the new threat posed by a "resurgent" Moscow following the collapse of the US-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The alliance "must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that Russia is throwing at us", he will say.

"Such action from Russia must come at a cost."

In a strongly-worded defence of an interventionist policy, Mr Williamson said the price of failing to act in global crises had often been "unacceptably high" and Western powers could not "walk on by when others are in need".

He stated: "To talk but fail to act risks our nation being seen as little more than a paper tiger."

Mr Williamson says the Government's "Global Britain" mantra must involve "action to oppose those who flout international law".

The Defence Secretary added HMS Queen Elizabeth's first mission will be part of "making Global Britain a reality".

F-35B first landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth
F-35B first landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth (Picture: MOD).

"Significantly, British and American F-35s will be embedded in the carrier's air wing, enhancing the reach and lethality of our forces and reinforcing the fact that the US remains our very closest of partners."

He also confirmed plans for new British bases in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific.

Setting out how he plans to spend some of the £1.8 billion extra funding for defence secured last year, Mr Williamson promised a "very significant additional investment" in cyber capabilities including improving the UK's ability to carry out its own online attacks and protect against hackers.

Royal Marine Landing Craft HMS Bulwark
A Royal Marine Landing Craft leaving the dock of amphibious landing ship HMS Bulwark (Picture: MOD).

Another topic on the agenda was defence spending and, in particular, the Defence Transformation Fund.

From the fund, two new littoral vessels will be brought into the Navy. He said that, if successful, he will look to accelerate their delivery:

"These globally deployable multirole vessels will be able to conduct a wide range of operations, from crisis support to warfighting.

"They would support our future Commando force, our world-renowned Royal Marines, they'd be forward deployed at exceptional high readiness and able to respond at a moments notice."

Mr Williamson said the new vessels would bring the "fight from sea to land."

Future Littoral Strike Ship prototype
Littoral Strike Ship concept (Picture: Royal Navy)

Mr Williamson also promised quicker changes in military technology.

"Against adversaries upping their spending and advancing technology, we have to respond," he will say.

"If we do not, we will find ourselves with fewer options when we face threats in the future."

He added:

"We're going to make sure that our ground troops, whether in the Army, the Royal Marines or the RAF regiment are going to get the same night vision equipment that their colleagues and Special Forces have.

"We're also going to buy pioneering robotic fighting and logistic vehicles - reducing the risk to our personnel and increasing the firepower and agility of our infantry."

Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: "The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9 billion in real terms since 2010 and they are cutting Armed Forces numbers year after year.

"Instead of simply engaging in yet more sabre-rattling, Gavin Williamson should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding that is happening on his watch."