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Speech: Undersea Defence Technologies conference

In recent months I’ve spoken to industry audiences in Plymouth, Portsmouth and Bristol.

All cities with a rich maritime heritage.

Liverpool is a city of equal importance and historical significance.

Nothing epitomises this more than Cammel Laird.

I have spent the morning at their yard on the other side of the River Mersey.

Seeing the support they are giving both to Royal Navy vessels afloat today and the flagships of the future, building blocks for our new aircraft carrier.

The first of which Her Majesty launches next month.

But they have been producing commercial and military vessels in this city since the 1820s.

Vessels that sailed with the World War 2 convoys.

Indeed, much of the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ against the U-boats was fought and won from Liverpool.

So Liverpool knows better than most the need to be masters of the undersea environment.

That’s why I’m pleased that this city is hosting this international event.

The ultimate deterrent

Your conference today is a timely reminder of the importance of the undersea domain to the United Kingdom.

First, and foremost, it provides us with our ultimate deterrent.

Last week I was off the coast of Florida embarked on USS West Virginia to witness a test firing of 2 Trident 2 D5 missiles.

This successful test demonstrated once again that the Trident remains a credible and reliable deterrent,

Which this government is committed to maintaining.

This means providing ‘continuous at sea deterrence’…

…And preparatory work is well advanced for a like for like replacement.

Only in that way can we maintain the flexibility over when and in what circumstances we would use it…

…which is so critical to an effective deterrent.

And I welcome the clear confirmation in March by the new Shadow Secretary of State for Defence…

…that Labour are also committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through CASD.

Earlier this year we announced the investment of more than £300 million to upgrade BAE Systems facilities at Barrow.

Another demonstration of our commitment to replace the Vanguard submarines.

By the time we reach Main Gate in 2016 we will have committed around £3 billion to the “successor” programme.

A sign that we intend to continue building submarines in this country for the foreseeable future.

We continue to invest in the skils and the infrastructure that will allow us to maintain a world-class, battle-winning and cutting-edge capability.

Investment that is already evident in the Astute programme…

…the most technologically advanced submarines that the Royal Navy has ordered and is operating.

Offering a significant step change in capability through world leading sensors, design and weaponry.

The third of class, Artful, was launched last month.

And a contract has been placed for the fourth boat, Audacious, which will safeguard 3,000 skilled jobs at the yard in Barrow.

£1.5 billion has been committed to the remaining 3 boats.

It is all part of a plan to spend around £38 billion on submarines over the next decade.

But our undersea capability stretches further than this.

Mine counter measures

We continue to place a high value on our maritime countermeasures capability.

After nuclear deterrence and carrier strike this is the most influential UK naval strategic capability…

…Indeed without it the former cannot safely leave port.

With the Royal Navy rightly considered as one of the leading organisations in the field.

In Iraq in 2003 the Royal Navy MCM fleet, and the Seafox UOR in particular, were instrumental in the clearing sea lanes to allow humanitarian relief to be delivered.

And they have been on station providing this essential reassurance to international trading fleets ever since.

Iraq might reasonably have been the coming of age for unmanned mine countermeasures.

And Libya was another opportunity for the Royal Navy to demonstrate its unmanned MCM capability, successfully disposing of mines on the approach to Misrata to allow the evacuation of civilians.

Our investment in undersea technology also provides the opportunity for us to exercise our capability in the hydrographic and oceanographic fields in support of tactical navigation and defence needs.

These capabilities are also crucial as we enhance our understanding of the world’s natural resources.

This is increasingly important as tensions over control of the sea bed emerge as a key challenge for the 21st century.

Sea bed oil and gas extraction is well established.

But the prospect of very substantial reserves of copper, manganese, cobalt and rare earth metals suggests at a minimum a need for robust system of sea bed regulation.

It has been suggested that the temptation for nations to go after these resources will lead to some sort of latter day gold-rush.

So proper governance will be vital.

As will the need for the UK to monitor and protect our commercial interests.

Potentially through both traditional and ‘new’ undersea technologies.

So we’re investing in traditional technologies

Despite the financial challenges we face, this government is making the right investments in undersea technology.

In order to protect that investment and maintain the freedom of maneuver of the continuous at sea deterrent we also intend to place contracts for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship at the end of this year…

This modern, flexible and adaptable warship will have at the core of its design the Anti-Submarine Warfare pedigree of the Type 23 Frigate in terms of noise and sensors.

Also in future technologies

But let’s not forget about investment in future technology.

The conference theme is ‘autonomy’.

We’re investing here too.

In the short-term the main focus of our work is in de-risking platforms for the Mine Countermeasures and Hydrography capability.

This capability is currently being delivered by multiple, aging ship clases.

Future capability is likely to employ unmanned off board systems more readily.

This will further reduce risk to our ships and personnel…

…As well as ensuring a more cost effective and flexible capability.

Over the past 2 years the Royal Navy Autonomous Systems Trials Team has been experimenting with innovative systems and developing tactics and doctrine in the countermeasures field.

We’re also developing and maturing novel underwater sensing solutions…

… which we see enabling a step-change in future unmanned technology undersea.

Understanding the potential disruptive nature of these low cost, transformational technologies is essential…

We also believe the UK has a market leading expertise with significant potential for commercial exploitation

But government cannot always go it alone

But at the same time we have to recognise the reality that in developing new platforms and capability we cannot always go it alone.

Given the financial demands and threats we face means squeezing the most out of our resources.

And that can encourage us to work collaboratively.

And while we must ensure that our key national requirements are met, we can work with partners to help get us there.

A good example is the NATO Submarine Rescue System.

A real success story … which has just been exercised at the tri-annual NATO Submarine Escape and Rescue Exercise, Dynamic Monarch 2014, held in Gadynia, Poland.

By jointly operating with France and Norway it offers the UK greater rescue capability than we had before but with costs shared across three allies.

Another example is the work on next generation Mine Counter Measures that we decided earlier this year to take forward jointly with France…

…which will deliver unmanned underwater vehicles capable of finding and neutralising seabed mines.

We have committed to a design stage and empowered OCCAR to place a contract by the end of this year.

We are also exploring alongside this a national programme to ensure freedom of maneuver of our future Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic capability.

Collaborating with industry too

But our key collaborative partnership is with industry.

And here we are working with our key suppliers to cement our submarine capabilities to manage the planned long-term projects which will span decades ahead.

We are working together collaboratively across the whole Submarine enterprise including the design, build and in-service support functions,

With 3 clear goals:

  • to improve performance on new and existing submarines
  • to realise significant savings through the rationalisation of facilities
  • and to protect our sovereign capability, to design, build and support nuclear submarines into the future

It’s also why I’m such an advocate of the Defence Growth Partnership coming together at Farnborough next month…

…where this government-industry partnership will help the UK defence industry reshape its business model for the next generation of high technology challenges we face…

…To highlight the centres of excellence we have through our supply chains in this country, including in the undersea sector which you are part of…

…and so deliver better value to the MOD and our international defence partners.


So in conclusion…

I believe there is enormous potential for this sector in which you are so actively engaged.

The UK government is playing its part by making the necessary long-term investments.

And we’re working with allies and industry to ensure that the ripples of this investment extend right down the supply chain.

This government is focused on promoting export growth, I see it as my job to help you drive exports too.

This Underwater Defence Technologies event here in Liverpool provides a timely opportunity for you to maximise the part your companies can play as demand rises internationally.

Thank you.

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