This week’s UK defence news was dominated by the NATO summit in Wales. Against a background of the continuing activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Russian’s interference in Ukraine, Barack Obama and David Cameron urged NATO member states to increase defence spending, although the latter rather undermining himself by failing to pledge that the UK will do the same. NATO’s announcement of the formation of a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force to counter any future Russian attempt to disrupt security in NATO’s Eastern European members was the core provision agreed to. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen has also stated that the alliance is open to helping Iraq combat Islamic State fighters. Already, it seems apparent that the UK has decided to directly arm Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants once a new government is formed in Baghdad.
In other news, the first example of the A-400M transport aircraft for the RAF completed its maiden flight in Spain. France announced that it was delaying the delivery of two helicopter carriers to Russia as a result of its actions in Ukraine. The MoD ordered 589 new armoured fighting vehicles. Finally, the RAF ended its detachment of four Typhoon aircraft to Lithuania as part of its contribution to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing efforts.
In other news, it became increasingly clear this week that Russia is providing direct support to rebels in eastern Ukraine. The Royal Navy seized £21 million worth of cocaine after a 12-hour pursuit across the Caribbean. HMS Bulwark sailed as the flagship leading the Royal Navy’s annual Response Force Task Group deployment. The helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious was decommissioned. Finally, a senior UN official has called for a ban on autonomous battlefield robots capable of killing without human intervention.
Defence job losses “inevitable” in the event of Scottish independence
The Courier reports that the Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker, has said it is “beyond doubt” that Scottish independence would cost defence jobs. The East Midlands MP visited Rosyth shipyard to meet staff working on the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, and hear their views about Scottish independence.
Alongside shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde, there are thousands of Scottish defence jobs across the country in industry, as well as employment from bases at Kinloss, Lossiemouth, and from Faslane to South Uist. There were an estimated £300 million of sub-contracts awarded to Scottish-based companies from the carrier contract alone.
Mr Coaker remarked: “The UK Government has never awarded a contract for complex warships outside of the UK. The idea that somehow everything would carry on as it is just because Alex Salmond says so simply isn't credible.”
Claims of defence budget shortfall in the event of Scottish independence
The Herald Scotland reports that the Ministry of Defence faces a more than £10 billion “black hole” in its equipment budget if Scotland becomes independent, according to SNP sources. The former defence secretary, Phillip Hammond, set out plans last year to spend £160bn on defence “equipment and equipment support” over the next decade. But losing the contribution of Scottish taxpayers would see that cut amount dramatically. SNP sources say that an analysis of official figures suggests that it might be as much as £13.44 billion. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and defence spokesperson, said that the figures pointed to the need for cooperation on defence issues between the UK Government and an independent Scotland.
Former NATO commander criticises defence plans for independent Scotland
The BBC reports that General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former NATO deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, has said the defence policies in the Scottish government's White Paper are “amateurish” and “dangerous”. But the SNP said the UK had a “dangerous” nuclear defence policy.
In a letter sent to Sunday newspapers, Sir Richard said: “As an experienced professional soldier, nothing I have seen or heard persuades me that Scotland's safety or security would be enhanced one iota if it became a separate country.” He also highlighted the lack of provision for naval aviation, air-to-air refuelling and search and rescue as major gaps in current planning. The Scottish government's White Paper on independence proposed a defence budget of £2.5bn in an independent Scotland, with “air and sea-based patrol” and a total of 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel within 10 years.
This week has seen The Guardian carry an analysis of the defence issues that would be encountered by both Scotland and the rest of the UK post-independence. Interestedly, the piece reports that the Scottish public support the UK’s Trident submarines remaining in Scotland post-independence by 41 per cent to 37 per cent.
Public Accounts Committee criticises MoD for failing to consult over cuts
The Guardian reports that a report from the Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for failing to consult the head of the army fully before pushing ahead with reductions to regular forces. Ministers also gave little consideration as to whether it was possible to achieve their aim of nearly doubling reservist numbers by 2019, and wasted millions of pounds through a flawed deal with Capita, the report concluded. Capita, the private firm contracted to handle recruitment, was said to have brought in just 2,000 reserves in 2013/14 against a target of 6,000. The goal for recruitment of regulars was also missed by 30 per cent, according to the committee. But despite such glaring failings, the company was still awarded its full bonus for recruiting reservists. At least £70m of the planned £267m savings from the contract have already been lost, the report said.
Fears that a further 20,000 troops could be cut
The Times reports that informed defence and Whitehall sources have said that unless Britain’s defence budget is “significantly increased” after next year, the Ministry of Defence cannot afford to pay for costly equipment and keep the Army at 82,000. The government has promised to increase the amount of money spent on defence equipment by one per cent next year, but the rest of the budget will stay flat, meaning that the total amount of money spent on the armed forces will fall below two per cent of GDP under current planning assumptions. Army commanders fear that they will be forced to cut up to another 20,000 troops to save money, even as Britain is urging its NATO allies to invest more in defence at a time of increased threats. Professor Malcolm Chalmers, research director at the Royal United Services Institute, said that he had heard the figure of 10,000 soldiers as possibly needing to be lost to make the British defence budget work.
Army Reserves see increase in strength of only 140 over six months
The Daily Mail reports that only 140 new Army reservists have been recruited this year – despite the Ministry of Defence spending millions on an advertising campaign designed to persuade thousands to sign up. Under the Armed Forces shake-up, ministers are cutting the strength of the regular Army by 20,000, while doubling the Territorial Army – now called the Army Reserve – to 30,000 by 2020. But the latest MoD statistics reveal that the number of trained reservists rose in the first six months of the year from 19,150 to 19,290 – an increase of just 140, or 23 a month. At this rate, it would take 39 years to meet the 30,000 target. At least £2 million has been spent on a television advertising campaign to try to persuade thousands to sign up as part-time soldiers – working out at a cost of around £15,000 for each of the 140 new recruits.
Police, ambulance and fire services “need integrating”, says Home Secretary
The Home Secretary Theresa May has stated that police, ambulance and fire services in England and Wales need to be “integrated” to save money. In future emergency services could share “back office functions” and be located on the same site, she said. She added that there was a “still-large deficit” and as a result further cuts to emergency services were needed. In a speech to centre-right think tank Reform Mrs May said: “With a still-large deficit and a record stock of debt, there will need to be further spending cuts, as even Labour acknowledge.” Police and crime commissioners are already looking at how they could collaborate, she added.