This week’s main security and defence news has been the call from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for an explanation from the Government about rumors of plans for a British deployment to Libya. The Daily Telegraph reports that the demand was made after claims that the MoD was due to agree a mission against the Islamic State this week. The Foreign Affairs Committee said it had been told on a recent trip to North Africa that the Government was due to finalise plans to commit troops to an Italian-led training mission to sure up the divided nation against Islamic State militants. The MoD denied any decision had been made or any agreement had been reached, but sources said an international deployment “appeared to be getting closer”.
In a letter to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Select Committee Chairman Crispin Blunt MP wrote that it had been told the international force would train the Libyan army and provide security for the government. “It appears the Defence Secretary will agree the UK contribution to this force at a European conference this week,” he wrote, adding: “I therefore request that you make a statement to the House on the state of the plan for any deployment of UK military forces in Libya before the Defence Secretary agrees the UK component of any international force and explain how this deployment is consistent with our policy objectives.” During this week’s Prime Minister’s questions, David Cameron denied that a mission was imminent, but highlighted that a stable Libya was in the UK national interest.
- Labour seeks assurances over two per cent defence spending target
- Inquest call for safety changes after helicopter crash
- Cheryl James Deepcut death: Police inspector apologises to family
- British army losing helicopter pilots after overpayment error
- MoD clamps down on single source contracts
- Commercial specialists may be given Trident recapitalization oversight
- Injured military veterans win care costs victory
Labour seeks assurances over two per cent defence spending target
The BBC reports that Labour fears the Government is set to break its commitment to spend two per cent of the national income on defence. Wednesday's Budget revealed £800m less than predicted will be spent this year. A Treasury source suggested the drop may be caused by an underspend at the MoD, but the Government has yet to give a detailed response. Labour has written to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to seek assurances that the Government remains committed to NATO’s spending target.
Before last year's General Election, David Cameron would not be drawn on whether the UK would continue to meet the target in the next few years given the scale of the public spending cuts earmarked to eliminate the deficit. But in his July Budget, Chancellor George Osborne said the UK would meet the NATO pledge on a “properly measured” basis and said overall spending on defence would be ring-fenced, getting a real terms 0.5 per cent annual increase in its budget every year until 2020.
Whilst it is likely that the £800m figure is the result of MoD underspend, it is desirable to clarify whether the MoD will be allowed to keep the money to spend at another time, or if the cash will be ‘clawed back’ by the Treasury. It is also noteworthy that Labour has failed to commit to spending two per cent of GDP on defence.
Inquest call for safety changes after helicopter crash
The Guardian reports that a coroner has recommended that the MoD make a number of safety improvements after five service personnel were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Darren Salter recommended that the MoD review manning levels and the impact this had service personnel as he delivered a narrative conclusion at Oxford coroner’s court. The coroner also said flight data recorders should be put into newer aircraft after concerns that a safety alarm had not sounded as the helicopter plummeted to the ground. Experienced WOII Spencer Faulkner died alongside Capt Thomas Clarke, Cpl James Walters, L/Cpl Oliver Thomas and Flt Lt Rakesh Chauhan when their Lynx helicopter crashed in a valley in Kandahar province on 26 April 2014.
Speaking after the verdict, families of those killed in the crash said they felt “let down” by the MoD and that “significant question marks” remained over what caused the accident. The Thomas family said: “The MoD, and those involved, had a duty of care to their employees and passengers, and in our opinion they did not provide Oliver with this by their failure to adhere to the rules and procedures set out, and as a family we feel very let down.”
Cheryl James Deepcut death: Police inspector apologises to family
The BBC reports that an ex-police inspector has apologised to the family of a soldier found dead from a bullet wound to her head at Deepcut barracks in Surrey in 1995. Michael Day told an inquest in Woking he would do things differently now. Mr Day arrived at the scene of her death on 27 November at 09:04 GMT and handed the investigation over to the coroner and military at 11:12, without inspecting the body or weapon himself. Apologising to Pte James's family for the limited police investigation, he said there were no suspicious circumstances “in terms of the position of the body and things around it”. He said letters found in her quarters “suggested that she was troubled over things” but admitted there was never a suggestion of any suicide note.
Alison Foster QC, representing the James family, accused Mr Day of basing his decision on a “set of assumptions” without a proper investigation of the scene. She told Woking Coroner's Court no fingerprint evidence had been taken from the gun, there had been no swabs of Pte James's hands or face, and no fingertip search conducted of the area around the body before it was moved. Paul Davidson, a former MDP officer who attended the scene, told the court: “There was no cordon in place at all. Everyone was just walking around, there seemed to be no control.” The inquest continues.
British army losing helicopter pilots after overpayment error
The Guardian reports that the Army has lost some of its most experienced helicopter pilots over a wage error that led the MoD to demand they return thousands of pounds in overpayments, according to newly released documents. Defence chiefs were urged to drop their bid to recover the wages after 15 attack helicopter pilots resigned over the issue, in which servicemen faced paying back a total of £829,000. The Army raised concerns that the loss of experienced pilots and instructors risked not only undermining morale, but had the potential to threaten the Apache attack helicopter squad’s frontline capabilities in Afghanistan. A letter to MoD officials in June 2014 said the Army was “firmly of the view” that the debts were written off due to compelling operational reasons, including the fact that the cost of replacing just one pilot far exceeded the total debt.
MoD clamps down on single source contracts
Defence News reports that defense companies are facing a 15 percent cut in the baseline profit rates they can earn on contracts awarded without competition by the MoD. “I have set the baseline profit rate for single-source defense contracts at 8.95 percent in line with the rate recommended by the Single Source Regulations Office [SSRO],” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told Parliament on Monday. The new rate compares with 10.6 percent available to industry in fiscal year 2015-16 and 10.7 percent the year before that. The MoD said in a statement that the new rate brings Britain in line with defense suppliers in Western Europe and North America. In the 2014/15 financial year, single source contracts accounted for about 53 percent of new contracts with the MoD, with a cost of around £8.3 billion.
Commercial specialists may be given Trident recapitalization oversight
The Daily Telegraph reports that hiring London Olympics-style professionals to run the £41bn new nuclear submarines programme could help to deliver Trident’s successor on time and on budget, say defence industry bosses. While such projects are built by private contractors, management of the work is traditionally handled by MoD officials. However, the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review pledged to create a new team in the MoD to oversee nuclear defence projects “headed by an experienced, commercial specialist” and a new body to manage the submarines programme.
Recruiting from industry is likely to be welcomed by the Chancellor, George Osborne, who last year said he would back funding for the new submarines – which have yet to be given the green light by MPs – only if control of the work was taken away from the MoD, with the Treasury getting a say.
Injured military veterans win care costs victory
The Daily Telegraph reports that injured veterans will no longer have to use compensation payments to pay for their own social care after the Chancellor bowed to a long-running military charity campaign. New rules in George Osborne’s budget mean war pensions given to injured soldiers, sailors and airmen will no longer be counted as income towards care such as nursing and home-help.
The Treasury climb down follows a campaign by the Royal British Legion, which had accused the Government of a “profoundly unfair” system that penalised injured veterans. The Legion estimates around 4,000 veterans currently have to use war pensions to pay for care including cleaning, washing, dressing, nursing, or adapting their homes.