Gavin Williamson
Secretary of State for Defence and Conservative MP for South Staffordshire

A century ago, Britain rose to meet the challenges of modern warfare by launching the world’s first air force. And from their exploits in the Great War to their daring in the Battle of Britain, from their tenacity in the Cold War to their bravery in the Gulf, our tireless Royal Air Force have continued to cement Britain’s global reputation.

The increasingly complex threats which we are facing now demand an equally radical response. We have entered a dangerous new era of conflict. We have not just seen global terror hit Britain’s streets but the rise of increasing competition between states – from terror-sponsoring Iran to nuclear-armed North Korea. The pace of change is quickening and the dangers are converging. In seeking to hold territory and utilise more sophisticated weapons, non-state actors are increasingly behaving like nation states, while state aggressors are starting to imitate non-state actors.
Take Russia. It is using covert operations and cyber warfare, political subversion and increased military posturing. Who would have thought a year ago that one of the UK’s great cathedral cities would be the site of the first use of chemical weapons on the streets of Europe since the end of the Second World War? Such dangers are putting increasing pressure on the norms that bind the international community together.
But the UK is confident and optimistic that we have what it takes to respond, whatever the challenges to come
First, our will to be a worldwide force for good remains as strong as ever. As a Tier One military power, we are building on firm foundations. We possess an independent nuclear deterrent, world class special forces, cutting edge cyber capabilities and the world’s most professional armed forces.
Our confidence comes from the credibility of our exceptional conventional forces. Our personnel are equally adept at deploying independently or taking command of coalition forces. Currently, we have more than 14,000 deployed on operations around the globe, with 19,000 preparing to deploy or at readiness to respond. They are in the North Atlantic commanding and directing anti-submarine operations. They are deterring the Russian danger on the Eastern fringes of Europe, leading NATO’s presence in Estonia and policing the Black Sea, Baltic and, soon, Icelandic skies. Their contribution to the war against the Daesh fanatics in the Middle East has been second only to the US. And in the wake of the appalling attack on innocents in Douma, our forces flew side-by-side to degrade President Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities and deter future use – helping to alleviate the extreme humanitarian suffering of the Syrian people.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, our people are training a new generation of officers. In the Indo-Pacific, our Royal Navy vessels are enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK. And in Africa, British men and women are bringing vital humanitarian aid, stopping terrorism and providing our allies with strategic lift and Chinooks – the only power in Europe with such capacity
Finally, Britain’s optimism rests on our continued determination to underpin the soft power of our global influence with hard power. Our Modernising Defence Programme is the cornerstone of our approach.
Building on the work of SDSR 2015, which recognises you cannot have security without prosperity, it sets out a vision for dealing with the complex challenges of the 21st century. It will give us a lethal fighting force – maintaining advantage over our adversaries in every domain – from nuclear and conventional to the new territory of cyberspace. It will make sure that international co-operation is built into our DNA – deepening our relationships across the globe. And it will transform our defence business speeding up our processes and bridging the gap between the emergence and adoption of new technologies. At the Farnborough air show, we unveiled our concept of a next-generation fighter and a far-reaching Combat Air Strategy to keep the UK at the forefront of the air sector.
As we look to deliver the next phase of our MDP, tremendous opportunities are opening up. The European Union limited our vision but post-Brexit we will be freed up to reach further – deterring all dangers, projecting global power and capitalising on our worldwide economic potential
One hundred years ago, RAF pioneers showed Britain had not lost its appetite to remain a world power. With the first of our fifth generation Lightning stealth fighters launching from the decks of our mighty Queen Elizabeth carrier, on its maiden visit to the US, you can rest assured that our global Britain will continue hitting the heights a century from now.