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MoD trumpets 'Innovation Strategy' for buying kit

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Analysis In the wake of the recent, highly-controversial departure of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) kit-purchasing chief - erstwhile drugs'n'sweets multimillionaire Lord Drayson, who claimed he was quitting to race bio-alcohol cars - there has been a good deal of silence from the MoD war-tech offices.

Publication of the updated British Defence Industrial Strategy (or "DIS2") has now been postponed until after Christmas - perhaps while the new Prime Minister's team change it to fit with their ideas rather than those of Drayson and his sponsor Blair.

However, it seems that at least one document drafted during Drayson's tenure has now been approved for release. Last week Drayson's successor, Baroness Taylor, unveiled to a largely uninterested world the UK's new Defence Innovation Strategy. The rough idea here is to get Blighty's deathware industrial base to be a bit less big iron and a bit more Silicon Valley.

"We want to create an environment with industry where innovation is encouraged and quickly developed to give our military personnel a battle-winning edge," said Taylor.

"Through the Innovation Strategy we can replicate the recent successes of getting innovative technology to the battlefield rapidly, such as Mastiff, a mine-protected armoured vehicle ..."

Actually the Mastiff is 1970s technology or older; and British troops didn't get it until six years after the Afghan invasion and three years after Iraq. Even if you accept that it gives British forces a battle-winning edge - and you'll find some among them who would disagree, seeing a difference between being safe and winning - Mastiff isn't innovative, the MoD did nothing to encourage its development and delivery was anything but quick.

As it happens, the Mastiff is made in America, too; so presumably - taking it as an example - Baroness Taylor's "environment with industry" might consist of importing more stuff from the States rather than waiting years for British gear which costs more and does less.

After all, as the Innovation Strategy tells us, "the UK’s battle winning military capability remains heavily dependent on both development and exploitation of world-class technology ..."

That's certainly true. Many of the things which make the UK a world-class military power are quite high-tech. Polaris ICBMs; Tomahawk cruise missiles; Brimstone tank-busters; Paveway smartbombs; C-17, C-130 and CH-47 airlifters; Apache attack helicopters; Harpoon ship-killers ... the list goes on. All of them come from America, not from Blighty. Where high-tech kit doesn't come entirely from America - like the Type 45 destroyers - it tends to have significant input from France or other allied countries.

So yes, we're dependent on world-class combat kit. But realistically, most of it isn't British. That's been true for a long time. Any realistic talk of "battle-winning edge" and "best possible support for the front line" really ought to acknowledge that.

Sadly, it seems we're not actually talking about getting the latest and best kit for the front line, and making sure that Blighty can act on the world stage with a decent chance of success. We're talking about building up the UK arms biz.

UK Government, industry and university research and development (R&D) effort remains critical ... [we will] provide a competitive advantage to specific technology providers, where sovereignty is required ... [and] develop a stronger defence industrial base.

"Sovereignty" in the sense of making all your own stuff is something of a busted flush these days. Even the Americans are starting to get rather worried about the amount of foreign-supplied components and so on that they have to use.

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