UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson pitched a strong British military and a new concept fighter jet it is developing, while brushing aside concerns about US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Nato, during a visit to Washington.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, Mr Williamson said he would like the US to consider buying the Tempest aircraft Britain is developing as part of its plans to remain a “Tier 1” military power, even after the nation leaves the European Union. The defence chief was scheduled to met Pentagon Secretary Jim Mattis later on Tuesday.
“Our programme will transform our defence business," Mr Williamson said. The security chief said that he was "very confident we can produce the world’s best fighter aircraft and something that I very much hope the US Air Force would be looking to buy in the future”.
While Prime Minister Theresa May appeared unwilling to say whether Britain is committed to remaining a top-tier military power, Mr Williamson said the Tempest was a key part of bolstering the “hard power” that underpins the UK’s “soft power” of global influence. Referencing US preferences for American weaponry, Mr Williamson said: “You do tend to be a tad protectionist on these matters."
The concept jet is the result of a joint venture between Britain’s BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce Holdings and the UK arms of Italy’s Leonardo and MBDA, Europe’s biggest missile company, for its modernised defence programme. Mr Williamson unveiled a mock-up of the fighter, which Britain wants to be operational in 2035, at the Farnborough air show in July.
While the US. has focused on selling its Lockheed Martin F-35 jets to allies, the Pentagon has a history of adopting some UK fighters for use, including Harrier II jets in the US Marine Corps.
Asked about Mr Trump’s criticism of Nato, Mr Williamson said he believed the US to be "incredibly committed to Nato" as the country pours resources into the alliance and its defence.
"The US has been the most reliable partners for us and many nations, and I have no doubt that that will continue and it will continue to grow,” he said.