DEFENCE minister Peter Luff has praised staff in South Gloucestershire and told the rest of the country ‘we should be proud of them’.

The minister was speaking to the Gazette during a visit to the Ministry of Defence in Abbey Wood, Filton, where he was shown new technologies being trialed for use on the frontline in Afghanistan.

Mr Luff, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, said: "The future of our fighting capability lies in technology.

"Technology is moving so fast in so many areas, which is why it is all the more important to stay ahead of the game and make sure our troops have what they need to stay safe and be effective.

"Our freedom and liberty depends on technology."

He said the government would not be cutting the defence budget any further but would increasingly be looking to use specialist private sector companies to build cutting edge kit and equipment.

"We don’t have the funds to research some new technology," he said. "But it is very important for us to keep working with companies and open up the supply business.

"You will find hundreds of companies of all sizes supplying the defence sector including many in Bristol and up the M5 corridor into Gloucestershire. It is a core area for the technology world and it is really exciting to see the ingenuity of British engineering being used so effectively at the MoD.

"Abbey Wood is doing a first rate job and the whole country should be proud."

Mr Luff was shown a new line of communication being developed which will block out any noise disturbance to be used in combat on the frontlie. He also looked at night vision monocles and solar thermal water heaters during the demontration, attended by key industry partners.

Nikki Hart, air domain leader, said: "We would not be doing the work unless we could see the potential for its use in theatre.

"We have already seen things we have produced here in Bristol benefit the frontline in Afghanistan."

During the visit, Mr Luff said there was an urgent need to get more young people into engineering.

He said: "The one thing defence companies are facing is a skills shortage. Young engineers are just not there and that is the single greatest constraint.

"The companies are here in the UK but people are being put off engineering and it is up to all us to take up those engineering jobs, especially in the defence industry."