This week’s main UK defence news has been the ongoing debate regarding defence spending. The Daily Telegraph reports that senior Conservative MPs vying to run the House of Commons Defence Select Committee have warned that David Cameron must put his “money where his mouth is” and commit to spending two per cent of Britain's national income on defence. Julian Lewis MP, Colonel Bob Stewart MP and Richard Benyon MP are all running to replace Rory Stewart MP, the former chairman of the committee and a strong advocate of spending two per cent of national income on defence, who has been made a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The Guardian reports that Sir Michael Graydon, the former head of the RAF, has said that any Prime Minister who wanted to be “remembered as a statesman” should take the opportunity to commit to maintaining the NATO target of spending a minimum of two per cent of national income on defence. His words came in a forward to a new report by the UK National Defence Association which, amongst other things, calls for the UK to adopt the American practice whereby the Chiefs of Staff are free to give their views publically to Parliament so that MPs and the public can be reassured of the adequacy of defence provisions.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that George Osborne is seeking to cut the budgets of most government departments this year by an extra five per cent, including the MoD. The Treasury has told each ministry, with the exception of health, education and international development, to find savings amounting to £3 billion or more before the budget on July 8. The MoD has been asked to find £1 billion of the savings. However, Whitehall sources emphasised that the five per cent figure was not a formal demand or a target, but reflected an opening demand to the negotiations and that departments were being asked what they could manage.
Against this background, this week saw the forthcoming SDSR highlighted in the Queen’s Speech, which took place on Wednesday. Her Majesty stated: “My Government will undertake a full Strategic Defence and Security Review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe.” However, no further details were given regarding the review or the exact timing of its publication.
Trident safety concerns unfounded, says Defence Secretary
The BBC reports that an investigation into allegations made by Royal Navy submariner William McNeilly regarding the Trident nuclear programme has found that the safety of the public and submariners have not been compromised, and the continuous at sea deterrent remains effective, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced. He said William McNeilly's allegations were either factually incorrect or the result of misunderstanding or partial understanding. The Royal Navy submariner has claimed the missile system on the Clyde was a “disaster waiting to happen”. However, Mr Fallon insisted that neither the “operational effectiveness” of the fleet “nor the safety of our submariners or public have been compromised”.
The hour's following the Defence Secretary's assertions saw a debate led by SNP MP Alex Salmond regarding the security and safety of the Trident system. The approach of Mr Salmond and his allies was – as expected – largely built upon the testimony of McNeilly, although some safety allegations centred upon the Royal Navy's Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment at Dounreay were also raised. No specific allegations were made against any of the organisations providing security to the facilities in question. Responding for the Government, Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt MP stated that she was satisfied with the overall state of security at HMNB Clyde.
New report outlines poor state of Armed Forces morale
The Independent reports that one in four of Britain’s Armed Forces want to quit “as soon as they can”. Fifty-one per cent of service personnel cited opportunities outside of the service as their prime motivator for wishing to leave. Morale in the Armed Forces also came under scrutiny, with forty-one per cent of respondents citing it as their reason for wanting to quit, up from thirty-eight per cent in 2014. The statistics, which were published as part of the MoD’s UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, said that the figure of those planning to leave was up nine per cent since 2011. The report comes amidst fears that the Army in particular may undershoot its downsized force target of 82,000 by 2020.
Risk of terrorist attack using chlorine gas highlighted
The Independent reports that, according to one of the country’s leading chemical warfare experts, the growing use of bombs containing chlorine by jihadists in Iraq and Syria are a threat to the UK. Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon warned the threat came from UK-born jihadists trained in bomb-making techniques returning to this country. A former commander of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, he said that there was an urgent need for more stringent controls on chemicals such as chlorine in Britain.
Iraqi government officials reported that bomb attacks on their security forces north of Baghdad earlier this year resulted in troops displaying symptoms identical to a chlorine chemical attack. Similar symptoms were reported amongst Turkish Peshmerga soldiers fighting ISIS for control of the Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobani. Security officials in Syria claimed ISIS had captured supplies of the chemical after over-running a water-filtration plant. An Indonesian shopping centre was reportedly the site of an attempted chlorine bomb attack earlier this year. Reports claimed the bomb, which failed to detonate, was created by a group of returning jihadists.
Security services' powers to be extended in new Investigatory Powers Bill
The Guardian reports that the Government is to introduce an investigatory powers bill that is far more wide-ranging than expected. The legislation – proposed in this week's Queen's Speech – will include not only the expected 'snooper’s charter', enabling the tracking of everyone’s web and social media use, but also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications. The surprise extension of the scope of the bill beyond legislation to “modernise the law” on tracking communications data was agreed within government only this week. The extended scope of the bill may follow some of the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which suggested in March that the entire existing surveillance legal framework should be replaced by a single new Act of Parliament.
Report that Royal Navy may seek Army and RAF cuts to pay for additional personnel
The Times reports that defence sources say the Royal Navy is pushing for more sailors – possibly at the expense of the Army and the RAF – to avert a manpower crisis. A cap of 30,000 personnel imposed at the last defence review five years ago means that there are insufficient crews to staff the fleet fully, they warned. This shortfall would be exacerbated by the arrival of two new aircraft carriers over the next decade. One idea to fix the problem without a significant increase in the defence budget could be to increase the size of the Navy but cut the Army and the RAF. It is thought that the Navy needs another 2,500 to 4,000 sailors for all the tasks that it is required to fulfil. The potential manpower crisis has forced commanders to consider taking up to four warships off frontline duty, according to former naval officers. The ships would still be operational but would have a skeleton crew, meaning that it would take longer to get any of them ready for action.
Gurkhas targeted by investment scammers
The Daily Telegraph reports that scores of Gurkhas have fallen prey to alleged fraudsters who persuaded them to invest their life savings in scam deals. Hundreds of members of the regiment are thought to have been targeted in the sophisticated fraud that promised high returns on cash investments. It is thought some of the soldiers could have lost tens of thousands of pounds of their military pensions and savings in the deals and police are now desperately trying to identify all those affected. Information about the high yield investment opportunity is thought to have spread quickly among the tight knit Nepalese community who until recently received a less generous military pension than their British Army counterparts. Police have already written to sixty potential victims but fear hundreds may have been caught out. The victims are thought to have invested in a scheme operated by Capital World Market (CWM) that offered five per cent interest per month. The investment is currently being investigated by the City of London Police and thirteen people have already been arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation and money laundering.