This week’s main UK defence news has been that, in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, Prime Minister David Cameron has appointed his new cabinet, the defence component of which consists of:
· Defence Secretary: Michael Fallon MP
· Armed Forces Minister: Penny Mordaunt MP
· Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans: Mark Lancaster MP
· Minister for Defence Procurement: Philip Dunne MP
· Minister for Reserves: Julian Brazier MP
· Minister for Defence and Lords Spokesman on Defence: Earl Howe
More broadly, the general theme for cabinet and wider ministerial appointments appears to be one of continuity, with a large number of individuals remaining in their pre-election posts. This is highly unusual as the return to power of a government for a new term is usually taken as an opportunity to radically alter the configuration of departmental leadership in light of ministerial performances, changing policy priorities and even personal relationships. It may be that Cameron has moved to preserve the structure of the Conservative element of the previous government in an attempt to prove to voters that they ‘got what they voted for’. Such an approach also serves to provide reassurance to the public that the Government will not embark on a radically different path to that of recent years.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, which will define the future shape, size and role of the military when it reports in the autumn, was launched at a National Security Council meeting this week. The study, overseen by the Cabinet Office, comes five years after the last such body of work hit the Ministry of Defence hard, with the loss of tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and personnel such as MDP officers – and the shedding of critical kit, such as warships and maritime patrol aircraft, in order to save money.
- RUSI forecasts small increase in UK defence spending
- MDP plagued with illness-related absenteeism
- Military personnel shortfall reported
- Letters from Prince Charles concerning military published
- Royal Navy rescues hundreds of migrants in Mediterranean
- RAF Chinooks blocked from operating in Nepal
- A400M aircraft crashes in Spain
RUSI forecasts small increase in UK defence spending
The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has released post-election analysis which suggests that it is possible that the MoD might get a real-terms increase in its total budget. Its analysis states that given Conservative manifesto commitments to maintain the size of the regular Armed Forces and sustain a one per cent equipment budget uplift, “On reasonable assumptions, it is estimated that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) might get a real-terms increase in its total budget of up to 1 per cent per year over the next Spending Review period”, adding that, “this is broadly comparable to the trend rate in the MoD budget before the financial crisis, between 1999 and 2010”. However, the article also highlights that “Such an increase would not be enough to meet the two per cent NATO target, except in the event of another, deep recession. On current (arguably optimistic) growth projections, defence spending will still fall to around 1.8 per cent of GDP by 2020.”
The RUSI analysis also suggests that “some savings should still be possible in spending on civilian personnel, infrastructure spending and training” – a category that includes the MDP.
The election of a Conservative majority government looks likely to bring some good news for defence spending. However, the Daily Telegraph reports that there are elements within the Conservative party who wish to see even higher expenditure, and are unwilling to let defence spending drop below two per cent of GDP. Given the small majority the Conservatives have in the House of Commons, these rebels may be in a position to influence the outcome of the SDSR and Spending Review.
Claims that intelligences services may be cut to save military
The Times reports that in the week in which David Cameron launched the new Strategic Defence and Security Review, warnings have been sounded that Britain’s spy agencies may face cuts to fund Conservative pledges to protect the Armed Forces. Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the RUSI warned that the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the budgets of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the government’s listening post, could be at risk. “The intelligence agencies and the Foreign Office I think will also come under pressure, whether they are protected or not I think will be one of the big questions for the spending review and the SDSR,” he said.
Realistically, it is very difficult to see meaningful cuts to the budget of the security forces. This is in large part because no Minister wishes to risk putting themselves in a position where, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, they would have to explain why counter-terrorism funding was cut when the threat was so obvious. The Home Office police force, however, is a different story.
MDP plagued with illness-related absenteeism
The Times reports that the MDP is plagued by high levels of absenteeism blamed on bad backs, sickness and stress. The 2013-14 annual report of the MDP committee spoke of “unacceptably high levels of sickness” and said the unit had “limited resilience to rise to any additional exceptional challenge”. The most common cause of absence was muscle and bone ailments (27.7 per cent), followed by anxiety, depression or stress (16.1 per cent). Sources claim that one problem faced by officers, many of whom were working long overtime to cover for ill colleagues, was the impact of carrying heavy weapons and wearing bulky protective equipment for long periods. A spokesman for the MDP said: “We have taken steps towards more effective sickness and absence management. The number of officers on long-term sick is reducing — down from 138 officers to 77 over the past 18 months.”
The DPF was contacted by a journalist at the newspaper in advance of the story’s publication, but we were not directly quoted in the article. The news story is useful as an indicator of the physical demands on officers, which will be raised in our engagement with parliamentarians and journalists.
Military personnel shortfall reported
The Sun reports that new MoD statistics have shown that the Armed Forces are some 6,000 personnel short of requirements. Numbers fell to 144,120 last month – down from 150,890 a year ago. This is a 4.4 per cent shortfall. The RAF was most severely hit, being around 2,000 personnel understrength. However, the figures did show an uptick in reserve recruitment, with 6,810 joining in 2014/15, a 65 per cent increase in the 4,120 recruited the previous year.
Letters from Prince Charles concerning military published
The Daily Telegraph reports that Tony Blair privately acknowledged the failings of Britain's helicopters in Iraq after being warned by the Prince of Wales that troops were being put at risk because they lacked “necessary resources”. The revelation was disclosed in one of a series of secret letters sent by the Prince of Wales to ministers in which he championed the Armed Forces, farmers, organic school meals and alternative medicine. Both defence chiefs and the families of those who died in Iraq praised his direct intervention with Tony Blair on the failings of the army's Lynx helicopters, saying it was “entirely appropriate”.
The letters were only released under freedom of information after the Supreme Court overruled a ministerial veto by Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General. The legal battle cost the taxpayer more than £400,000.
Royal Navy rescues hundreds of migrants in Mediterranean
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Royal Navy's flagship has saved more than 400 migrants from dangerous boats trying to cross the Mediterranean, in the warship's biggest rescue since it began patrolling the sea. HMS Bulwark was alerted to four 30ft inflatable boats packed with around 100 people each, 40 miles off the coast of Libya. The passengers, who include children and pregnant women, were ferried to safety by the amphibious command and control ship's landing craft. Wednesday's mission means the warship has been involved in the rescue of around 600 people in only a week of patrols in the Mediterranean.
RAF Chinooks blocked from operating in Nepal
The Times reports that Britain faces the embarrassing prospect of having to bring home three Chinook helicopters that were supposed to help with the relief effort in Nepal after they were not given permission to enter the country. The RAF aircraft have spent the past few days sitting on the tarmac north of Delhi waiting for the green light to join thousands of rescue workers in neighbouring Nepal. Nepalese authorities said that they did not want the Chinooks to help because the helicopters were too big and might cause damage to houses when taking off and landing. A source said that he thought the reason for the refusal was more to do with reluctance by the Indian and Chinese authorities, whose countries border Nepal, to allow foreign aircraft to hover around Nepalese airspace. The RAF denied that this was the case.
A400M aircraft crashes in Spain
The BBC reports that the UK has temporarily suspended the use of a new military transport plane after one crashed in southern Spain. The MoD, which has two Airbus A400M aircraft, said their operations have been “paused”. The plane, which was undergoing flight trials, reportedly developed a fault just after take-off. Those on board were Spanish Airbus employees. At least four people were killed in the crash on Saturday and two other crew members have been seriously injured.