The U.K. will remain committed to NATO and to being a high-end defense partner even after it withdraws from the European Union in March, the British defense acquisition chief predicted on Tuesday.
“NATO is at the heart of our defense strategy,” Stuart Andrew said while at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Tuesday. Noting London already is well above the 2-percent threshold on security spending, he added, “I can’t see any of that changing,” even as the government tightens its belt in other areas to prepare for Brexit.
With the exit deadline approaching, he said Britain is stressing to its European allies their need to meet the 2-percent commitment to NATO to deter further aggression by Russia. He also said the U.K. was willing to work with members of the E.U. who are not NATO members on security matters.
“If someone hurts one partner, we are there,” Andrew said, especially to the frontline countries bordering Russia. He cited Royal Air Force deployments to the Baltic nations and Poland as examples of providing reassurance and bolstering deterrence. “We have to show … we have the capability to stop Russian aggression.”
More than 20 percent of London’s defense budget is going into modernization – including carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth now operating off the U.S. East Coast, buying and manufacturing its full complement of 138 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, funding the Type 26 frigate for its own use and for sale to allies like Australia and possibly Canada, and its next generation of Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines.
He added the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer, who handles the United Kingdom’s spending, put 1 billion more pounds “into key capabilities – naval, anti-submarine warfare, cyber.”
While defense industrial cooperation between Washington and London is “closer and broader” than it has even been, Andrew warned, no longer “does NATO and the West have a monopoly on technological reach.”
That challenge across all domains not only comes from Russia and China or lesser powers like Iran and North Korea, but also terrorists like al Qaeda and the Islamic State and lone wolves.
Andrew also added a note of caution to an “America First” policy in defense procurement.
“Our challenge now is to make sure trading traffic moves in both directions,” he said, pointedly reminding the audience that Great Britain willingly shared its expertise in “the jet turbine and bouncing bomb” in World War II.
Andrew a number of times in his remarks stressed the role of interoperability to meet today’s threats and new ones over the horizon.
Looking at London’s pursuit of a follow-on to the F-35B, called the Tempest, he said, “this is about where we go next.” He added it was important “to keep the skills we got” in aircraft development and production, as well as in shipbuilding and for land forces.
Remarking that the Type 26 frigate was the first warship Britain was making for export since the 1970s, the Tempest venture “is also looking at our allies across the globe [and] where we go in the future.”
Likewise in Europe, London wants “to be careful not to duplicate” efforts in defense modernization with nations in or out of NATO. The goal “is work collaboratively with our allies” and partners.