This week’s main UK defence news has been focused on the aftermath of the pledge by the Chancellor in the Budget last week that the UK would spend two per cent of its GDP on defence until at least 2020. As reported in last week’s monitoring, the promise had major caveats which have this week gained significant attention.
The Financial Times reports that MPs have accused ministers of “cooking the books” to ensure Britain hits the NATO target. It has emerged that the government will, for the first time, define large elements of intelligence spending as part of its defence budget to hit the NATO target. Ministers have also included other new items, such as income from fuel sales and rent and pensions paid to retired civilian and military staff. During a defence questions session in the House of Commons this week, Julian Lewis MP, the Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee, asked how far short of NATO’s target the Government would fall without including those items. He was backed by Gerald Howarth MP, another backbencher, who accused ministers of “raiding other accounts” to make up the numbers. In response, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP pointed out that NATO had signed off on the UK’s submission, telling the House of Commons: “Anything that is to be included has to meet the NATO guidelines.”
However, despite the issues with the two per cent pledge, The Daily Telegraph reports that the US President said the decision was “a significant signal from our primary partner on the world stage”.
· MP warns of dangers of further cuts to MoD Police
· Fight against Islamic State is new “Battle of Britain”, claims Defence Secretary
· Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots
· Prime Minister calls for additional defence spending on Special Forces and “drones”
· Army head condemns “unacceptable” sexual harassment
· Defence minister apologises for SAS test march deaths
· MDP coordinates anti-break in scheme
· Atomic Weapons Establishment holds community event
MP warns of dangers of further cuts to MoD Police
Police Oracle reports that MDP officers met with MPs this week at a reception designed to raise the profile of the force. The event was organised by the Defence Police Federation and sponsored by Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend and member of the Defence Select Committee. It came ahead of the latest Strategic Defence and Security Review, which many fear will result in the MDP shouldering further cuts. Mrs Moon said that many MPs were ignorant of the MDP’s “critical role” in protecting defence and other infrastructure. She added: “We cannot and must not make further cuts. If anything, we should build again because the level of skill within the Ministry of Defence Police is not something we can afford to lose.”
The following day, Police Oracle also reported that, speaking to one of its reporters at the event, Mrs Moon has called for the MDP to investigate rape claims made by Army personnel and help to tackle terrorism overseas. She told Police Oracle: “Personally, I’d like to see all sexual assault and rape cases go to Home Office police forces, because both service personnel and their families will have confidence that there is going to be no attempt to cover up or repress what is happening”. Mrs Moon added: “The argument against them going to Home Office forces has always been their lack of understanding about military bodies and also the MoD… the MoD Police fill that gap. They bring an understanding of the workings of defence but also bring police professionalism.”
During the course of the event, the DPF National Chairman Eamon Keating and other DPF representatives engaged extensively with both the minister responsible for the MDP and other MPs and Peers in order to raise the profile of the MDP and inform those in attendance of the issues it faces. The event represents an important part of the Federation’s programme of engagement with the new Parliament. Feedback from attending MPs and Peers has been very positive, and Members are now more fully briefed as to the importance of the MDP ahead of the SDSR later this year.
Fight against Islamic State is new “Battle of Britain”, claims Defence Secretary
The Daily Telegraph reports that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told an air power conference in London on Thursday that the conflict against the Islamic State is “a new Battle of Britain. Once again, against a fascist enemy prepared to kill civilians and opponents alike”. Senior defence sources said the RAF intelligence gathering effort over Iraq and Syria now surpassed that seen in Afghanistan during the lengthy campaign against the Taliban, and will be further boosted in the coming months. A Rivet Joint spy plane packed with electronic eavesdropping intelligence equipment has reportedly been flying over Syria from Akrotiri and will be joined by another this summer. All of Britain’s ten Reaper drones are also in the area, as well as two Sentinel, two E3D Sentry and Shadow surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Chief of the Defence Staff has said operations against the Islamic State and elsewhere had stretched the RAF’s fast jet squadrons to the edge of their capability. General Sir Nicholas Houghton, admitted that current commitments had put the RAF at “the very limits of fast jet availability and capacity”. The number of RAF fast jet squadrons has dropped from thirty at the end of the Cold War to just eight now.
Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots
The BBC reports that UK pilots embedded with coalition allies' forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group. About 20 personnel, including three pilots, have been embedded with other coalition nations' forces, including the US and Canada, the BBC understands. The MoD said personnel embedded with the US, French and Canadian armed forces had been authorised “to participate in coalition operations” and were under those forces' chain of command. The information emerged following a Freedom of Information request submitted by the human rights group Reprieve.
Prime Minister calls for additional defence spending on Special Forces and “drones”
The Guardian reports that David Cameron has signalled that he wants Special Forces, drones and stronger, readily deployable counter-terrorist facilities to be the big winners in the Strategic Defence and Security Review undertaken this autumn. The Prime Minister discussed his views with the defence chiefs last week after the budget, and on Monday he visited RAF Waddington, from where Reaper drone missions are flown over Iraq and Syria. On the visit, Cameron said: “Now we know how much we will spend, what matters next is how we spend it. I have tasked the defence and security chiefs to look specifically at how we do more to counter the threat posed by Isil (Islamic State) and Islamist extremism. He added: “This could include more spy planes, drones and Special Forces. In the last five years, I have seen just how vital these assets are in keeping us safe.”
Meanwhile, The Times had carried an editorial in which it calls for the UK “fight clever” and for money to be invested in Special Forces to combat militants in Syria and Iraq, as well as bolstering capabilities in repelling cyber-attacks and researching futuristic technology.
Army head condemns “unacceptable” sexual harassment
The BBC reports that the head of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter, has said that the level of sexual harassment being faced by female soldiers is “totally unacceptable”. In a survey commissioned by the Army, almost forty per cent of servicewomen said they had received unwanted comments of a sexual nature in the past year. The report, based on a survey of 7,000 soldiers, found thirteen per cent of women had had “a particularly upsetting experience”. About three per cent of those who were very upset made a formal written complaint. Nearly half did not make a formal complaint because they were concerned about the consequences, such as being labelled a troublemaker and the effect it might have on their career.
Sir Nick said he was “disappointed” by the figures. He said he wanted the Army to be a “modern, inclusive” employer and the change would come from the top down, with the launch of a new code of leadership in September.
Defence minister apologises for SAS test march deaths
The Guardian reports that a Defence Minister has apologised for a catalogue of failings that contributed to the deaths of three SAS candidates who died after suffering heat illness during a mountain test march in soaring temperatures. Penny Mordaunt MP said the MoD would study concerns raised by a coroner following the men’s inquest about how the exercise on the Brecon Beacons, south Wales, was planned and executed and how the failed rescue operation was organised. Health and Safety Executive officials will now look at the evidence that emerged during the inquest to establish if any criminal proceedings ought to be instigated. Birmingham and Solihull coroner Louise Hunt was highly critical of how the march that led to the deaths of Corporal James Dunsby, Lance Corporals Craig Roberts and Edward Maher was run. She said there was a “catalogue of very serious mistakes made by many people” and “systematic failings” and neglect contributed to the deaths.
In a written ministerial statement, Ms Mordaunt said once the civil investigations were complete the MoD would initiate its own service inquiry, to see where further lessons could be identified and improvements made. She said the Royal Military Police would also consider whether any non-criminal service offences appeared to have been committed.
MDP coordinates anti-break in scheme
The Helensburgh Advertiser reports that a Helensburgh East Rural Watch scheme has been established as Police Scotland launch a local anti-house break in campaign. The initiative was planned to coincide with National Neighbourhood Watch Week, and the new scheme covers the areas of Churchill, Kirkmichael and Colgrain. A police spokesperson said: ““The birth of another Rural Watch – this time sponsored by The Blue Light Disco – allows residents to sign up and take a pride in their area, signs are erected to advertise that the area is lived in and cared for by the community, crime is not welcome here.”
The Rural Watch covers a significant area of naval estate and as such is coordinated by the MDP.
Atomic Weapons Establishment holds community event
The Basingstoke Gazette reports that around 400 people from Basingstoke, Reading and the Newbury area attended an AWE showcase event at Burghfield Community Sports Association on June 27. Those attending got the chance to find out more about the two AWE sites and had the opportunity to speak to experts about its cutting edge science and technology programmes and educational initiatives with local schools and colleges. There were also demonstrations from the MDP police dogs and AWE’s fire and rescue and ambulance crews.