ModernGov: In the context of the efficiencies required from all government departments, how can the MOD be certain that the Armed Forces have the latest, most-effective equipment they require?
Liam Fox: This government is committed to our military’s long-term future. As I made clear to Parliament before the summer recess, the Ministry of Defence can now make plans based on the Defence Equipment and Support budget increasing by one-per-cent-a-year in real terms between 2015/16 and 2020/21.
This new funding commitment puts the Defence Budget on a firm footing for the years beyond the current spending review settlement and enables the MOD to proceed with a range of the high priority programmes set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review [SDSR].
We are therefore proceeding with the procurement of 14 additional Chinook helicopters, the upgrade of the Army’s Warrior vehicles, spending on the Joint Strike Fighter, the procurement of the Airseeker intelligence and surveillance aircraft, the cats and traps for the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, and the development of the Global Combat Ship.
As we approach the next General Election and prepare for the next Defence Review in 2015, a commitment to meet Future Force 2020 will be a key signifier for those political parties dedicated to the vision of a Britain active on the world stage and protected at home.
MG: There appear to be emerging threats to the country, including cyber attacks and even the fallout from civil unease in other parts of the world. How can the country protect itself from these kinds of evolving threats?
LF: As the events this year in the Middle East and North Africa have shown, the security risks we face are fast-moving and often unpredictable and it is an ongoing challenge for us to see around the corner as to where the next threat may come from.
I am clear that it is only by maintaining a reactive stance, with flexible capabilities, that the UK can protect itself from global threats and assist in multinational peacekeeping efforts. The recent action in Libya has shown how the SDSR has enabled us to deal with such emerging events.
With the onset of civil unrest in Libya, British forces were well-placed to quickly and effectively assist in the evacuation of over 1,200 civilians.
What’s more, the UK deployed the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group comprised of a variety of maritime, land and air assets to be on standby to react to unforeseen problems should they arise.
The Task Force’s flexibility was demonstrated when its ships and attack helicopters were diverted to support operations in Libya.
All of this was conducted successfully alongside our commitments in Afghanistan where we continue work to ensure that the country can never again become a safe haven from which terrorists can plan attacks on our soil.
The nature of the threat we face is constantly changing and it is only through being prepared that we can properly defend ourselves from new and emerging problems.
You raise the growing threat to our national security from cyberspace. In the last year alone the MOD was subjected to over 1,000 attacks. Through the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance we are working together to address these threats and plan our defence against future attacks.
Technology is fast-moving and it is important that we adapt our defences as the nature and scale of the threat develops.
MG: In the light of recent world events which have resulted in the engagement of forces, is there a danger that defence resources will become overstretched?
LF: The Government’s National Security Strategy of 2010 predicted that we may face an international crisis, similar to that in Libya.
As we are proving with our current operations there and in Afghanistan, the adaptive posture of the SDSR allows our Armed Forces to respond to a number of concurrent scenarios where we are able to project power abroad and protect our nation’s interests at very short notice.
Tough decisions had to be taken in the SDSR due to the financial black hole left by Labour, but we continue to have the world’s fourth-biggest Defence Budget and highly capable Armed Forces.
No-one can predict how long a complex intervention will take, every scenario will be different - militarily, politically and diplomatically.
Of course there will be increased pressures on both personnel and equipment as planning assumptions are tested. We all accept that, but the costs of the Libya campaign are being met from the Treasury Reserve, not the MOD budget.
What is clear is that we can continue operations in Libya for however long is necessary.
In the MOD, we must match resources with commitments - that is our core business. The radical structural and management reforms I am delivering will instil a new sense of financial discipline and financial rigour across the Department.
MG: The UK-France defence accord signed in November last year was a unique recognition of the two countries’ intention to work together in the area of defence. Might there be similar accords in the future with other nations?
LF: As the SDSR made clear, we remain committed to being a leading member of NATO, the EU and other international organisations.
While NATO will always be the bedrock of our defence, co-operation with our other allies - both in Europe and beyond - is vital and will remain a fundamental part of our layered approach to defence and security.
It is unlikely that we will develop such a deep relationship with other European nations as we have done with France. Between our two nations we spend around £70bn on defence.
We both share the same defence and security interests, have some of the most capable forces in Europe, and similar levels of spending and ambition. Pooling the substantial resource of the third and fourth highest military spenders in the world offers huge opportunities.
The UK-French agreement is not a prototype for wider European defence, but I do think it might be useful in setting an example to other European nations who want to work closely together.
At the Australian/UK Ministerial in January 2011, my Australian counterpart and I made a commitment to establish a bilateral Defence and Security Co-operation Agreement.
Recognising the strong, co-operative and enduring defence partnership that has always existed between our two countries, this agreement will aim to formalise and corral the various strands of partnership and co-operation and provide a framework for doing more.