I was going to come to that, but I will touch on it now. The Type 31e is subject to an open competition at the moment, as the hon. Gentleman knows, so I cannot go into too many details, other than to say that we have three bidders in the competition, which is an exciting and challenging one as we try to change how we procure our frigates. I look forward to seeing the competition progress.
As I was saying, the fact that we have been able to secure those jobs in the Scottish shipyards, with work into the 2030s, is something that no other industry in the United Kingdom can boast or be assured of, so it is not surprising that many MOD prime contractors have sites in Scotland, including Babcock, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo, Thales, Raytheon and QinetiQ. That goes to prove that the defence industry in Scotland is about more than just shipbuilding, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out.
In the land sector, beneath the prime contract level, many companies across Scotland have provided high-technology sub-systems to the Army’s critical warfighting platforms, which include Challenger 2 main battle tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, Foxhound patrol vehicles and the new Ajax reconnaissance fleet. Such on-board technology ranges from world-beating, 24-hour, all-weather sensors and sighting systems to the integrational design of complex battlefield communication equipment.
Looking forward, the land sector also holds much near-term potential for the Army’s exciting fighting vehicle modernisation programmes. Scottish companies are already bidding competitively in the Challenger 2 life extension programme, the mechanised infantry vehicle programme and the multi-role vehicle protected programme package 2—that’s a bit of a mouthful! For example, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West said, Thales—a company that I have visited on many occasions, even in the short time that I have been in my role—has a site in his constituency and is one of two finalists, bidding with its Bushmaster vehicle. Thales is also tendering for a range of smaller electro-optical sub-system upgrades for the existing armoured fleet to contribute to the British Army’s warfighting edge. I repeat, however, that the competition is open, so I cannot comment other than to say that I have heard him.
We should also not forget that small and medium-sized enterprises throughout the supply chain in Scotland benefit from our investment. I have really enjoyed seeing the innovation there is among SMEs not just in Scotland but right across the country. Innovative smaller companies such as Denchi Power in the town of Thurso in Caithness provide much of the essential very high capacity advanced battery and charging technology for the British Army’s combat radio systems. In the past financial year, our Defence Science and Technology Laboratory alone invested £4.84 million in research and development contracts with Scottish suppliers.
The second main element of our defence spending consists of investments in critical defence assets, stretching far beyond our submarine and RAF bases. Few are aware that Scotland has some 50 defence sites, including Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, Buchan in Aberdeenshire and Saxa Vord in Shetland. Those are the locations of our military radars, which provide critical long-range coverage of the northern approaches to the UK and neighbouring NATO nations. As the threats from the likes of Russia rise, so too does the significance of those sites.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South West mentioned fleet solid support ships, an issue I have had to deal with on many occasions in this role. Those ships’ primary role is to replenish naval vessels with bulk stores. They are non-combative naval auxiliary support ships, which are manned by civilian Royal Fleet Auxiliary crews and fitted with weapons systems purely for self-defence, so they cannot be designated as warships. I will probably continue to have long correspondence about that with the members of the Defence Committee, and I look forward to replying to their letter.
The relationship between defence and Scotland is mutually beneficial. Scotland is as integral to the United Kingdom’s security as the rest of the United Kingdom is to Scotland’s. Yes, the UK depends on the deep commitment of our Scottish personnel and benefits enormously from the unparalleled expertise of the industries based there, but Scotland also benefits from being part of the United Kingdom as a whole. It benefits from the UK’s broad spectrum of capabilities, it benefits from the sheer scale of defence spending by the UK, which can call on the fifth biggest defence budget in the world, and it benefits from the influence the UK is able to wield on the world stage to make a genuine difference.