Prioritising sovereign capability

Posted on 17 April, 2024 by Advance 

Martin Rowse, Campaign Director, Airbus Defence and Space, looks at why reinforcing the UK's security requires the prioritisation of sovereign capability across the country's defence and space sectors.

In an era characterised by geopolitical volatility and ever-shifting global dynamics, the United Kingdom's defence and space industry finds itself at a pivotal juncture, compelled to bolster its foundations for enhanced national security. As we navigate the complex landscape of international relations, the call for sovereign capability reverberates as a fundamental element in fortifying the UK's defence sector, ensuring it remains a force in an increasingly uncertain world.

Sovereign capability within the context of defence underscores a nation's ability to autonomously develop, sustain and control critical technologies, capabilities and supply chains vital to its military strength and strategic autonomy. Recognising the imperative to safeguard against external vulnerabilities, especially in light of the war in Ukraine and the growing tension in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East, the UK is beginning to strategically pivot, placing renewed emphasis on nurturing sovereign capability as a linchpin of its defence strategy, as outlined in the Defence Command Paper.

Traditionally, the UK has been acknowledged for its prowess in defence innovation, military technology and strategic industrial capabilities, something I have witnessed first-hand over the last two decades and living in the Indo-Pacific for the last five-years. However, current trends of global interdependence, strain on defence supply chains and reliance on foreign technologies underscore potential vulnerabilities in the face of unforeseen challenges.

As geopolitical complexities intensify, the UK, like many allied countries, is looking to recalibrate its approach, elevating the importance of sovereign capability to ensure its defence industry remains resilient and agile. This approach is being taken across all five domains of war, maritime, land, air and increasingly in cyber and space.

Attending and speaking at the UK’s largest industry space event in March, Space Comm Expo, it was encouraging to hear how both the government and the private sector are taking the initial steps in this strategic recalibration in relation to space. This was recently evidenced by the UK Government which published its UK Space Industrial Plan. Alongside space, there is an acknowledgement that investing in key defence sectors is critical to national security.

From advanced weaponry to cybersecurity, the UK must allocate resources to foster the development and sustainability of domestic defence industries. Collaborative efforts between the government and private sector entities can facilitate the seamless integration of cutting-edge technologies, fortifying the nation's strategic edge.

Simultaneously, an emphasis must be placed on addressing the increasing need for skills. Without a steady stream of individuals equipped with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, the UK’s ability to build sovereign capability falters.
However, this will not satisfy the full need, with the Defence and Space industry needing to become more open, attractive and able to take on mid-career transition. This must include enabling more people with a military career as well as those with transferable professional skills to come across at different stages of their careers.

To continue to grow and be globally successful, the industry needs to ensure a wide mix of skills and experience. Understanding this, our creation of the Community for Space Prosperity (CUSP) helps academia, industry and outreach all work together to fill the skills gap and support the growth of the UK’s space ecosystem. Steps such as this will bridge the gap between available talent and industry demand.

The imperative for the United Kingdom's defence industry to prioritise sovereign capability is undeniable. In a global landscape where, military prowess is synonymous with strategic autonomy, cultivating indigenous defence industries, skills and technologies is not merely a strategic choice but an absolute necessity.

By embracing this imperative, the UK can reinforce its status as a dominant force in the global defence arena, navigating geopolitical uncertainties with resilience, innovative capabilities and unyielding self-reliance.