This week’s main UK defence news has been the unauthorised release by a Royal Navy weapons technician of a dossier compiled by him which contained major criticisms regarding the security and safety of the Royal Navy’s Trident submarines. The Daily Telegraph reports that Able Seaman William McNeilly warned that ID cards were rarely checked and that bags could easily be taken on board vessels. He also reported a series of concerns surrounding safety of the fleet, including a fire in a missile compartment after lavatory rolls caught alight, and another missile compartment being used as a gym. Additionally, he documents thirty safety and security flaws, which he claimed he was exposing to ensure a “better world”. They include failures in testing whether missiles can be safely launched, alarms being muted because they went off so often, missile safety procedures being ignored and top secret information being left unguarded. Subsequent to the document’s publication, The Guardian reports that Able Seaman McNeilly was apprehended by the Royal Navy Police.
Spectre of new defence cuts returns
The Daily Telegraph reports that George Osborne has told the MoD and other Whitehall departments that they still need to find billions of pounds worth of cuts this year to help Britain go into “that extra gear” and secure the economic recovery. Mr Osborne said that “the more you can do early, the smoother the ride”, as he stated that unprotected departments will be expected to find £13 billion of savings. The Chancellor disclosed that Greg Hands, the new Chief Secretary, has written to every government department except health, education and international development ordering them to find cuts. It comes as the Government faces a potential back-bench rebellion unless it commits to spending two per cent of Britain's national income on defence. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that unprotected departments could be forced to make the equivalent of 18 per cent of additional cuts in real terms, about the same amount as over the past four years. It has been suggested that the MoD, Department for Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice could bear the brunt of the austerity measures.
Separately, the BBC reports that Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall has said that Labour should commit to the NATO target of spending at least two per cent of national income on defence.
World 'as dangerous as during World War Two' claims Defence Secretary
The Daily Mail reports that the Defence Secretary has said the world is now as dangerous as it was during the years of Nazi Germany due to the threats posed by Russia and Islamic State. In a stark warning, Michael Fallon said it was crucial that Britain was able to respond to more than one crisis on ‘multiple fronts’ in the future. Mr Fallon said he would take a leading role in drawing up a new Strategic Defence and Security Review – which will set out potential threats to the UK – due to be published in the autumn. Prime Minister David Cameron has already promised not to cut troop numbers further. He is also committed to renewing the Trident nuclear defence system and building the next generation of Successor submarines. But the Conservatives have failed to say whether they will maintain the NATO target of spending two per cent of national income on defence, despite pressure from politicians and military chiefs to do so.
The Sun editorial backs two per cent defence spending target
In a notable intervention, The Sun newspaper has carried an editorial in which it expresses its support for spending two per cent of the UK's GDP on defence as a “starting point” for a defence review. Echoing claims by the Defence Secretary, the paper claims that the world is now more dangerous than at any point in the last 70 years, and questions the Government's priorities with regards to spending by referencing the UK's aid budget.
Home Secretary condemns police for “crying wolf” over Government actions
The Daily Mail reports that Theresa May has accused police of “crying wolf” about the impact of cuts – and warned officers to brace themselves for a fresh spending squeeze. The Home Secretary rebuked the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, for ‘scaremongering’ by claiming budget reductions endangered the public. She used a keynote speech to insist there was “no ducking” the fact that forces must make further savings despite already cutting spending by twenty per cent since 2011. Mrs May’s broadside came after the Federation’s chairman warned that new cuts were a threat to front-line policing and could lead to the “collapse” of the police service. In an attack on the Government, Steve White said police forces were ‘stretched to the limit’ and that police on the beat could vanish, with Britain forced to adopt a paramilitary style of policing. Labour has claimed another 30,000 officers could be lost under Conservative plans, on top of the 17,000 already cut since 2010. But Mrs May said the police ‘union’ had been issuing doom-laden warnings that cuts were leaving constabularies in crisis for more than a decade.
Libyan soldiers convicted of rape
The Guardian reports that two Libyan soldiers stationed in the UK who acted like “hunting dogs” have each been sentenced to 12 years in jail for raping a man in Cambridge. Moktar Ali Saad Mahmoud, 33, and Ibrahim Abugtila, 23, were found guilty of raping and aiding and abetting the rape of the man in his 20s in Christ’s Pieces Park in October. Three other Libyan cadets have already admitted unrelated sex attacks which took place on the same night in Cambridge. They were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on 13 May but this could not be reported until the rape case was concluded. The men were among several hundred Libyan army cadets on a training mission with the MoD.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has carried a report which claimed that the Army had fears about the behaviour of Libyan soldiers and put the barracks on lockdown when they arrived. A risk assessment released by the MoD following a Freedom of Information request raised particular concerns about cultural attitudes to sexual violence. David Cameron has reportedly ordered a report into the affair to be carried out by a MoD civil servant not involved in the programme and a civil servant from another department.
RAF rescue deployment to Nepal abandoned
The Guardian reports that three RAF Chinook helicopters sent to help the Nepal earthquake relief effort are being recalled to Britain without flying a single mission after the Nepalese government turned down the chance to use them. The twin-rotor aircraft were dispatched after the devastating earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people and left thousands more in desperate need of aid. But the three helicopters, each capable of carrying up to 55 soldiers plus equipment, never left their base in Chandigarh, in India, because the government of Nepal did not wish to deploy them for fear of the damage their rotor downwash could cause. Gurkha engineers from the British Army and a 60-strong search and rescue team have also been sent to Nepal from the UK, as well as more than 18 tonnes of shelter kits, lanterns and other essential supplies.