The Ministry of Defence is signing a £3.5 billion contract for almost 600 new armoured vehicles on the eve of Nato’s summit in Wales, at which Britain will make the case for increased defence spending by the alliance’s 28 member states.
The contract for 589 Scout Specialist Vehicles, being signed at General Dynamics in Oakdale, south Wales, is the largest single order placed by the MoD for armoured vehicles for more than 30 years. Delivery of the first vehicles is expected in 2017, with a training establishment and first squadron due to be equipped by mid-2019 and a brigade ready to deploy by the end of 2020.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who was today travelling to the summit venue near Newport ahead of Thursday’s opening of the two-day gathering, said the contract would secure 1,300 jobs across the UK and sustain 300 posts in Wales.
Mr Cameron said: “I’m delighted that on the eve of the Nato summit, we can announce the biggest single contract for armoured fighting vehicles for the British Army since the 1980s.
“These new vehicles are testament to the world-class engineering skills in south Wales and across the UK, helping to create the Army’s first fully-digitalised armoured vehicles. Not only will they be crucial in helping to keep Britain safe, they will also underpin nearly 1,300 jobs across the UK and showcase the strength of the UK’s highly skilled defence sector.
“With the second largest defence budget in Nato, meeting Nato’s 2% of GDP spending target and investing in new capabilities to deal with the emerging threats, we are ensuring Britain’s national security, staying at the forefront of the global race and providing leadership within Nato.”
Designed in Wales, the hi-tech Scout vehicles will be the Army’s “eyes and ears” on the battlefields of the future, said the MoD.
The Army’s most senior officer, Chief of the General Staff Sir Peter Wall, said: “The Scout family is a transformational programme that will refresh our armoured capability and ensure the Army remains a first-tier manoeuvre force.
“It provides advanced intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities and will be the ‘eyes and ears’ of commanders on the battlefields of the future. With digital links to all of our other systems it will be able to fulfil a wide range of combat roles.”
General Dynamics said the Scout provides a “highly-agile, tracked, medium-weight armoured fighting vehicle, providing British troops with state-of-the-art best-in-class protection”.
Each vehicle has capabilities including acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic counter-measure system and a route marking system.
In a pre-summit speech to the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think-tank in London, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon will say that Britain’s European allies in Nato must increase their defence investment to prove that the alliance “means business”, warning that the USA will not go on “picking up the cheque” if Europe chooses to prioritise social welfare spending when “threats are on our doorstep”.
Mr Fallon will argue that investment in defence capabilities is not only an “insurance policy” for the UK, but also secures national economic growth.
The Defence Secretary is expected to say: “Defence offers us more than just a comprehensive insurance policy. It brings jobs and exports. The UK defence industry employs more than 160,000 people, with a turnover of £22 billion, and exports worth £9.8 billion in 2013.
“People often think of defence spending in terms of such vehicles, or aircraft or ships. But there is a wider dynamic impact for long-term economic performance. Defence incubates the innovation that has ensured our economy remains among the strongest in the world.
“Since Nato was formed, UK defence has delivered the first computers, thermal imaging, liquid crystal displays. Today medical breakthroughs learnt from operations in Afghanistan – such as blood stemming dressings – have been introduced into NHS practice.
“And technologies designed to protect soldiers’ clothing from chemical attack are providing splash proof technology for tens of millions of devices – everything from smartphones to hearing aids.
“Investment in defence drives a strong economy and a strong economy provides confidence to invest in strong defence. It is a virtuous circle.”
Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said: “Labour fully supports the role played by the defence industry in creating jobs, promoting British exports and sustaining excellence in design and manufacturing. The defence industry makes a hugely significant contribution to our economy and I pay tribute to General Dynamics and its highly skilled workforce in Wales for the work they do.
“But this is not new money; it is not even a new announcement. The Government said in 2011 that it would continue Labour’s plans to invest in armoured vehicles, allocating £5.5 billion for the purpose. And the first phase contract for these Scout vehicles was actually signed as far back as 2010.
“Given the critical issues facing Nato this week and the tough decisions that will have to be made at the summit, the British people expect more from the Government than this cynically-timed rehashing of old news.”