This week’s main UK defence news has occurred in the context of the ongoing General Election campaign. Whilst the main national parties published their manifestos last week, this week has seen the SNP and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) release their documents.
Unsurprisingly, the defence component of the SNP manifesto focuses on the cancellation of the replacement for the current generation Trident nuclear weapons system. However, it does contain a number of other specific commitments, notably with regards to ensuring that in future, conventional naval patrol vessels are based permanently in Scotland; that new multirole maritime patrol aircraft are purchased; and that conventional defence assets in Scotland are protected from cuts.
The DUP manifesto is rather briefer with regards to defence, in the main sticking to generalities. However, one notable pledge that this monitoring has previously reported was an intention to ensure that the UK spends the NATO standard of two per cent of GDP on defence. Whilst it would normally be possible to dismiss such pledges from a minor party, it is now not out of the question that the election will produce a situation in which the Conservatives could remain in office, but only with the support of the Liberal Democrats and the right-leaning DUP (and perhaps also UKIP). As a result, the importance of the DUP’s pledge should not be underestimated.
Warning that SNP may block UK defence spending to force Trident replacement cancellation
The Times reports that the SNP has threatened to hold Britain’s security to ransom by trying to block the military budget until the renewal of Trident, the country’s nuclear deterrent, is halted. The party’s deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, revealed that the SNP was examining whether it could scupper parliamentary authorisation of the MoD’s annual budget. Such a move would put in jeopardy troop’ salaries, the supply of equipment and the financing of continuing operations and contracts, in addition to spending on Trident. Mr Hosie said that the party was looking “to vote against or table amendments to estimates” if they included the nuclear deterrent. Parliamentary ‘estimates’ give legal authority for government departments to go ahead with their planned spending for a year. Stopping Parliament from authorising the military budget would be unprecedented in modern times.
UK offers military assets to aid in recovery of Mediterranean migrants
The MoD has confirmed that HMS Bulwark, three Merlin MK2 helicopters and two civilian border patrol boats will deploy in light of recent deaths of a large number of refugees in the Mediterranean. Prime Minister David Cameron said that it is right for Britain to step forward and for the Royal Navy to play a role in the search and rescue operations. He also welcomed the fact that other EU countries have joined Britain in offering military assets and said that longer term, a more comprehensive strategy is needed to make a difference.
HMS Bulwark is currently supporting the Gallipoli Centenary events in Turkey and will depart on 26 April after her ceremonial duties come to an end. The 19,000 tonne amphibious ship will work in tandem with the surveillance helicopters to provide a day and night search and rescue capability covering ranges in excess of 100 miles.
NATO exercise ‘Joint Warrior’ underway
The Galloway Gazette reports that the large bi-annual military exercise, Joint Warrior, is taking place across Scotland, involving the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, as well as a host of forces from other states. Exercise Joint Warrior will run from Saturday 11 April until Friday 24 April, and will feature 55 warships and submarines, 70 aircraft and around 13,000 personnel from 13 participating countries.
As might be expected, despite the importance of the exercise in training and testing NATO forces, it has been the lighter hearted moments that have made most impact with the press. One such incident was reported by the Daily Telegraph this week, when an RAF Chinook helicopter accidentally dropped a crate of rations 800 feet onto a field, narrowly missing both the M4 motorway and some sheep.
Royal Navy members charged with sex assault in Canada
The Daily Telegraph reports that four Royal Navy personnel, who were on tour with the Navy’s ice hockey team, have been charged by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) with one count of sexual assault and of committing a sexual assault with other persons. The alleged victim, a civilian, has been described as a young woman who lives in the Halifax area. Following the indecent, she was taken to hospital and was examined by sexual assault nurses, sources told the newspaper.
The charges will cause grave embarrassment to senior Royal Navy officers in Britain. The visit by the ice hockey team had been planned to provide the Royal Navy and its Canadian counterpart with opportunities for promoting the work of its personnel, in a spirit of friendly rivalry. Instead, the military authorities are now investigating the alleged rape, which is said to have taken place on 10 April at a drinking party attended by the men in a barracks at Nova Scotia’s Shearwater naval and air force base.
MoD to decide on future of US bases in September
The BBC reports that the UK government will announce plans for the sites of three former US airbases in East Anglia by September. The US Air Force (USAF) announced in January that it would leave RAF Mildenhall, RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth by 2020. The bases will then return to MoD control. The MoD said the General Election and budget reviews could affect whether the bases remain in military use or are used for other purposes.