The Defence Secretary has said the UK Armed Forces “desperately” need to be reformed and modernised “if we are to meet emerging threats”. Writing in an editorial for the Sunday Times, Ben Wallace said: “For too long we have had a sentimental attachment to a static, armoured centric force structure anchored in Europe, while our competition has spread out across the globe. “If we are to truly play our role as ‘Global Britain’, we must be more capable in new domains, enabling us to be active in more theatres.”
His comments come after reports that military chiefs are looking at scrapping the UK’s fleet of Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armoured fighting vehicles to focus on other capabilities such as cyber warfare. A report by the Times claimed the plans have been drawn up as part of proposals to radically modernise the Armed Forces and cut costs. The report came months before the expected conclusion of the Integrated Review – described by Downing Street as the biggest review of British defence, security and foreign policy “since the end of the Cold War”.
Mr Wallace mentioned the review in the column published on Sunday and said it will “also recognise the importance of research, skills and the aerospace industry”, warning: “Without them, our forces could risk losing the battle-winning advantage we will need in this ever more insecure and anxious world.” The former British Army officer, who is visiting Qatar and Oman this week, also said he will also publish a “defence industrial strategy” in addition to findings of the upcoming review.
He spoke about the importance of the British aerospace industry which amounts to £34 billion, saying: “Their exports enable us to afford the best for the men and women of the services. “No country that wants to keep ahead of our enemies, not even America, can afford to not export.” Last month, it was announced Britain was to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia after ministers ruled there was no pattern of deliberate breaches of international law involving UK-made weaponry in the conflict in Yemen. The decision was condemned as “morally bankrupt” by campaigners whose legal action forced the Government to halt the sales to the Saudis in June 2019.
Although Mr Wallace said his upcoming trip to the Middle East is not a sales exercise, he added he will be championing Britain’s aerospace sector during the visit. He described the aerospace industry’s partnership with the Middle East as a “mutual benefit for us all”. The region has been an area of heightened tensions recently, in particular, Iran amid its worsening relationship with the West, the Strait of Hormuz and the conflict in Yemen. Mr Wallace said the UK’s stability is linked to the stability in the Gulf but admitted the UK has not “always got it right in the region”.