The Integrated Review will be published on Tuesday. That’s to say, the Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, to give the document its full title. Boris Johnson will make a Commons statement.
And he steps up the pre-publicity today by saying that the review will commit to a new, full spectrum approach to the UK’s cyber capability – announcing the establishment of a ‘cyber corridor’ across the North of England and, he claims, thousands of jobs. The Prime Minister said:
“Cyber power is revolutionising the way we live our lives and fight our wars, just as air power did 100 years ago. We need to build up our cyber capability so we can grasp the opportunities it presents while ensuring those who seek to use its powers to attack us and our way of life are thwarted at every turn.
“Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people, promote our interests around the world and make the lives of British people better every day.”
The Government says that opening a new headquarters for the National Cyber Force (NCF) in the North of England will drive growth in the tech, digital and defence sectors outside of London, and help create new partnerships between government, the sector and universities in the region.
The NCF was created last year to transform the UK’s capacity to conduct targeted offensive cyber operations against terrorists, hostile states and criminal gangs – drawing together personnel from both defence and the intelligence agencies under one unified command.
Opening the HQ of the NCF in the North of England will drive growth in the tech, digital and defence sectors outside of London and help create new partnerships between government, the sector and universities in the region, Government sources claim.
They add that “the review will set out the importance of cyber technology to Britain’s way of life – whether by defeating enemies on the battlefield, making the internet a safer place or developing cutting-edge tech to improve people’s lives”.
Defence currently sustains more than 35,000 jobs in the North West of England alone. Ten thousand people are employed in maritime design in Barrow and 12,000 people work in advanced aerospace engineering and manufacturing at Samlesbury Aerospace Enterprise Zone, where the UK is producing the fifth generation F-35 stealth aircraft.
In addition to the NCF, last year saw the creation of the 13th Signals Regiment, the first dedicated cyber regiment, and expanded the Defence Cyber School. These capabilities will play a part in operations, including HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first global deployment this year.
We now wait to see what mix of cyber and conventional capabilities the review proposes; what it says about the major foreign policy and security challenges, and where development fits in – as the Government prepares to abandon the 0.7 per cent GNI aid target, at least temporarily.
The challenges should shape the capabilities – on paper, anyway, though that is more often than not the case in the breach than the observance. If the review stresses, say, naval and cyber capability at the expense of the army, what does that imply for the potential defence of the Baltic states from Russia?
What is Boris Johnson’s position on China, where the UK’s trade and security interests are at odds, Conservative backbenchers are in revolt over China’s abominable treatment of the Uighars, and Dominic Raab, this very day, has accused China of breaching the joint declaration on Hong Kong?
Finally, does the Government now believe that there is no major third threat to Britain’s security – from Islamist extremism, which dominated the security conversation from 9/11 through 7.7 to the murder of Lee Rigby and beyond? It didn’t get so much as a mention in the Prime Minister’s recent speech to the Munich Security Conference.
The review’s launch this week will be followed by a Defence White Paper next: that’s the document in which cuts and scalebacks will be announced. A procurement review will come in its wake.
Meanwhile, there’s at least one select committee report in the immediate pipeline – the Defence Select Committee report on procurement itself. Busy times for the Ministry of Defence in the immediate future then,.