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21 Jul 04. With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the need to transform our Armed Forces to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century.

Before doing so, however, I know that the House would want to join me in paying tribute to the bravery, professionalism and dedication of the men and women who serve their country in the Armed Forces, as well as those who support them in the Ministry of Defence and British industry. Their reputation is second to none. The transformation that I am setting out today will help to ensure that our armed forces can continue to respond effectively to the global challenges they are likely to face.

This Government is absolutely committed to Britain’s defence, and to our Armed Forces. That was made abundantly clear by my Rt Hon Friend the Chancellor’s announcement last week of the budget settlement for Defence. The 2002 Spending Review provided the largest sustained growth in defence spending plans for 20 years. This year it has been possible to make even more resources available for Defence, providing the longest period of sustained growth for over 20 years. A defence budget rising by £3.7 billion. It is this sustained investment that makes possible the transformation to which the Government and the Armed Forces are committed.

In the 1998 Strategic Defence Review we set out plans to develop defence capability to match the needs of the post Cold War world. We built on this with the SDR New Chapter, published after the appalling events of the eleventh of September 2001. And we confirmed this direction in the Defence White Paper of December 2003.

That White Paper makes clear that the threats to Britain’s interests in the 21st Century are far more complex than was foreseen following the disintegration of the Soviet Empire. That is why the Defence White Paper signalled that we should continue to modernise the structure of our Armed Forces. To embrace new technology. And to focus on the means by which the Armed Forces can work together with other Government agencies to meet the threat of international terrorism and the forces of instability in the modern world.

Our Armed Forces have enthusiastically embraced this process of transformation. It will see a shift away from an emphasis on numbers of platforms and of people – the inputs which characterised defence planning in the past – to a new emphasis on effects and outcomes, and on the exploitation of the opportunities presented by new technologies and Network Enabled Capability. We measured numbers of people and platforms in the Cold War because we were preparing for an essentially attritional campaign, holding back Soviet forces. That kind of campaign has fortunately passed into history as technology has moved on.

The capability of our Armed Forces is growing year by year as intelligence is combined with target acquisition, modern communications and precision weaponry to produce results which have changed the nature of modern warfare. These new capabilities involve the rapid communication of actionable intelligence to the commander in the field to deliver a range of combined effects, involving all three Services and our allies acting efficiently and effectively together.
We are also able to respond more rapidly to crises through the improved deployability of our forces. We saw this in 2003 when forces were moved to the Gulf in less than half the time that it took twelve years before. And with better target acquisition and precision weaponry, our Air Force was able to hit its targets with less ordnance – and hence fewer aircraft – than in the first Gulf War. The same tasks can now be completed in much less time, with far greater accuracy and correspondingly lower risk to our Armed Forces.
The Defence White Paper makes clear that this shift in investment towards greater deployability, better targeted action and swifter outcomes

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