1 RIFLES on exercise in Sennybridge

Defence Secretary Criticised Over 'Underwhelming' Military Funding Update

1 RIFLES on exercise in Sennybridge

The Defence Secretary has announced further details from the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) – the review of the Armed Forces capabilities and spending - but has faced accusations that the findings are "underwhelming" and contain "no new money".

Addressing the House of Commons, Gavin Williamson confirmed the £1.8 billion of defence funding announced earlier in the year and said British defence would consist of five domains.

"Our adversaries and competitors are accelerating the development of new capabilities and strategies," he said.

"We must keep pace and conceive of our joint force, consisting of five domains of air, land, sea, cyber and space, rather than the traditional three."

The MDP was launched in January in light of changes to the security threats the UK is facing.

Publication of the results have been delayed numerous times, and there had been concerns cuts were imminent after reports from the National Audit Office revealed a £7bn hole in the Ministry of Defence's Equipment Plan.

Mr Williamson revealed to the Commons the new Spearhead programmes would apply modern technologies to sub-surface submarine threats, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and command and control in the land environment.

Despite the focus on new areas, traditional capabilities such as jets, warships and armoured vehicles will not be cut, Mr Williamson said.

F-35B HMS Queen Elizabeth
Capabilities such as fighter jets are thought to be protected in the MDP (Picture: MOD).

He also confirmed a multi-million "transformation fund" for new technology: "Next year I will ring-fence £160 million of the MOD's budget to create this fund available for innovative new military capabilities.

"I will look to make a further £340 million available as part of the spending review."

Artificial intelligence and its uses will be looked at in a series of new programmes, along with tackling threats to submarines, the Ministry of Defence said.

Mr Williamson also outlined plans to make the force more "lethal" by improving the readiness of warships, submarines, helicopters and jets, and increasing weapon stockpiles.

However, the Shadow Defence Secretary has criticised Gavin Williamson for his "underwhelming" MDP statement, saying that it contains "no new money".

Nia Griffith MP attacked the update, saying it was six months late and "does nothing to solve the affordability crisis in the MOD".

She said: "Given the amount of time it's taken, given the endless reports of Mr Williamson's rows with his Cabinet colleagues, and given his commitment in the summer that this would lead to 'a major programme of top-down transformative reforms', it is staggering that the end result is so underwhelming."

Ms Griffith said Mr Williamson had promised the MDP would "put UK defence on to an enduringly affordable footing", but asked: "How can it, when it includes no new money?"

British troops in Norway

Ms Griffth said the Defence Secretary had also failed to answer what is happening with the development of the UK's own satellite system after it pulled out of the European version, known as Galileo, due to Brexit.

She finished by saying: "At a time when this country faces ever-increasing threats, we do not believe that the department's affordability crisis can simply be ignored. This is just grossly irresponsible."

Mr Williamson hit back, saying the defence budget is increasing from £36 billion this year to £39 billion next year.

And on Galileo, he confirmed BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) would be introducing a report on future space projects in the new year.

Galileo satellite artist impression
Mr Williamson said a report future space projects will be published in the new year (Picture: ESA).

Tory chairman of the Defence Committee Dr Julian Lewis urged a further increase in defence spending to 3% of GDP.

He said: "Does he feel in this era of slightly looser Cabinet joint collective responsibility - whatever they care to call it - that he might accept the fact that the Defence Select Committee's target ultimately of a return to 3% of GDP is what's really needed in terms of defence expenditure?"

Mr Williamson replied: "Well he always tries to tempt me with that question, I read his report with interest, but I think the point he makes about an early debate on this is certainly something that would be very welcome and I will make representations to the usual channels to see if that is something that can be granted."

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