This week’s main UK defence news has been related to the ongoing conflict in the east of Ukraine. As the ceasefire between the government of Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists was being violated by the latter almost as soon as it was supposed to come into force, General Sir Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army, criticised the sale by the UK of 85 “useless” British armoured vehicles to Ukrainian forces. He told the Daily Telegraph: “I took these out of service by the UK Army in 2005/6 as completely unsuitable for current operations, so I find it incredible that they are being sold/gifted to Ukraine. I am incensed by the thought we are supplying, even via a third party, Saxon APCs to the hapless Ukrainians.”
In linked developments, RAF fighters intercepted two Russian Air Force bomber aircraft off the coast of Cornwall, as a diplomatic row broke out after the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, issued a warning over Moscow’s threat to the three Baltic State members of NATO. Mr Fallon's comments came after David Cameron called on Europe to tell Russia that it faced economic and financial consequences for “many years to come” if it did not stop destabilising Ukraine. A newly released report by the House of Lords EU committee has claimed that Europe “sleepwalked” into the crisis, as it had not realised the depth of Russian hostility to its plans for closer relations with Ukraine.
Ministry of Defence Police deployed to guard GCHQ base
The Gloucestershire Echo reports that the MDP is being deployed at GCHQ on a full-time basis as the listening post responds to the UK’s increased terrorism threat level. GCHQ has stressed that the decision to bring in an armed presence provided by the MDP is not in response to any specific threat. The armed officers will be guarding the entrances to GCHQ and making occasional sorties to the perimeter. The intelligence facility has prepared a flyer for local residents explaining the move, which is due to be sent out imminently. It states the armed police presence will have “no impact on local residents whatsoever”. It goes on to say: “In line with all government organisations, we have been keeping GCHQ's security arrangements under review and have decided that the time is right to introduce an armed police presence at our Benhall site.”
Following the announcement of the move, the DPF issued a statement – carried by the Gloucestershire Echo, Daily Mail (online), Police Oracle, and Yahoo News UK – saying that the MDP is “stretched to the limit”. The DPF warned the demands on the Force’s resources have become “unsustainable” and that decisions taken as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review must be made based on risk rather than cost.
Man convicted of plot to behead soldier
The BBC reports that a teenager who was armed with a 12in knife and a hammer when he was arrested has been found guilty of planning to behead a British soldier. Brusthom Ziamani, 19, was also carrying an “Islamic flag” when he was arrested in east London in August 2014. The court heard that he had been inspired by the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, researched Army cadet bases and boasted of a plot to “kill soldiers”. Ziamani, of Camberwell, London, will be sentenced on 20 March. During the trial at London's Old Bailey, jurors were told how Ziamani had “reverted” to Islam at the beginning of 2014 and was arrested after he had shown his ex-girlfriend weapons. The jury of seven women and four men convicted Ziamani of preparing an act of terrorism on or before 20 August last year after deliberating for a day-and-a-half.
Think-tank suggests replacing Trident with air-dropped bombs
The think-tank CentreForum has published a report recommending that the UK should replace its Trident submarines with an air dropped nuclear deterrent. As a result, it claims Britain would save up to £13 billion for priority defence equipment spending. It finds that the Trident programme – which is due to be renewed after the general election in May – is an “expensive and excessive” solution to the nation’s nuclear deterrence requirements, even by the extraordinary standards set during the Cold War. The report argues that Britain’s forthcoming F-35 Joint Strike Fighters – a stealth aircraft bought to carry conventional weapons – should be adapted to deliver a minimum nuclear deterrent based upon a stockpile of 100 British-built, US-designed B61-12 nuclear bombs.
The system proposed by the CentreForum paper would be cumbersome, fragile and run a very high risk of being unable to destroy its intended targets should it ever be used. As a result, it is highly unlikely that the report’s recommendations will be acted upon.
MoD signs Chinook support contract with Boeing
The BBC reports that the MoD has signed a £420m contract with Boeing for the in-service support of the RAF's Chinook helicopter fleet. The five-year contract, announced by the Prime Minister on his visit to Portsmouth, is for the maintenance of the fleet in Fleetlands, Gosport. Other technical support will be provided from RAF Odiham in Hampshire and other sites across the UK. The RAF's fleet is due to grow to sixty aircraft by early 2017. During his trip to the south coast, David Cameron also announced BAE Systems and Magma Structures had been chosen as the preferred bidders to occupy the Portsmouth ship hall facilities.
Dozens of arms firm employees on MoD secondments
The Guardian reports that dozens of employees of arms firms are currently seconded to positions at the MoD and other parts of government, under an arrangement that has sparked concerns about the relationships between the public and private sector. More than ten executives from BAE alone have been seconded into the MoD and the arms sales unit at UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in the last year, according to records obtained by the newspaper. Nine BAE executives were seconded to senior positions in the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support branch, which has a £14bn annual budget to buy and support equipment used by the Navy, Army and RAF. An MoD spokesperson said: “Secondments are used very occasionally to utilise skills and expertise from a whole range of organisations in a way which delivers value for taxpayers, and there are strict rules relating to conflicts of interest and confidentiality.”
MoD spent £6m on earplugs ‘not fit for purpose’
The Independent reports that according to a new report published by the Taxpayer’s Alliance, Whitehall departments made losses of £5.1bn last year through errors, fees and buying unused equipment – including £6m spent by the MoD on earplugs found to be not fit for purpose. More than half of the losses have been attributed to the MoD, where a total of £3.1bn was allegedly lost, including £7.2m spent on mine detection capabilities for Warrior vehicles which were also found to be unsuitable, and a further £4m following the early withdrawal from service of Sea King helicopters. An MoD spokesman told The Independent that the earplugs were not used after they were found to be unsuitable during trials.
Scottish Police admit losing 20,000 records after ‘wrong button pressed’
The BBC reports that Police Scotland has admitted it lost 20,000 stop and search records because someone “pressed the wrong button”. The admission came as senior officers appeared before a committee of MSPs at Holyrood. Among them was Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, who said he had apologised for giving incorrect information to the police watchdog over stop and search statistics. Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson told the committee that a total of 20,086 records had been lost because a “computer programmer pressed the wrong button between May and July last year”. Sir Stephen's appearance before the sub-committee comes days after he admitted to the police watchdog that statistics his force released on stop-and-search were “not 100 per cent accurate” and were “not fit for public consumption”.