Dr Liam Fox MP, former Secretary of State for Defence has warned that plans to cut regular personnel whilst increasing the reserve force to 30,000, also known as Future Force 2020, may have to be reversed due to severe recruitment difficulties. Dr Fox, who resigned in 2011 over allegations of misconduct, ssaid that, as the economy picked up, the task of recruiting personnel would potentially become even more difficult. He said the main challenge for the MOD now was securing the support and co-operation of employers, to ensure that they are willing to hire reservists.
Afghan police training passes milestone with the support of the MDP
In a press release on the MOD website, the Government reports that last month, police training in central Helmand passed a significant milestone with the opening of a new Training Centre in Lashkar Gah. Since 2009, more than 6,000 Afghan policemen and policewomen of the Afghan Uniform Police and local and border police forces have graduated from the LTC.
The MDP has had a continuous presence in Helmand province since January 2008, sending more than 200 officers from across its ranks to train and develop the Afghan National Police (ANP) Force. The Government says that now, with the Afghans having taken the lead for delivering training to their own recruits, the MDP is stepping back.
One police mentor, Melvin Goudie, said that the MDP personnel out on tour deserve a lot of credit for establishing a functional policing service, adding “it wasn’t perfect, but something which could go forward”. The MOD went on to explain that MDP officers have worked alongside military colleagues, often in forwards locations such as Lashkar Gah, Babji and Kandahar, to jointly engage in training and mentoring the ANP. Mr Goudie said that the MOD originally approached the MDP because there was a need to move from a purely military mission to a policing and military mission. Goudie added that the mission has been constant but at the start the MDP was very “hands on” and was training and looking after the district chiefs of police and their deputies. Over time this has reduced to a mentoring and monitoring role.
Westminster Hall debate on National Security
Conservative MP Julian Smith introduced a West Westminster Hall debate on National Security, which was intended to debate the balance between national security and freedom of the press, in the wake of the release of classified data by Edward Snowden. However, the focus on the discussion was aimed at the Guardian newspaper’s role in “copying, trafficking and distributing files on British intelligence and GCHQ”. The work of intelligence agencies and their capacity and role was also discussed.
Speaking in the debate, Security Minister James Brokenshire MP warned that the UK’s national security had been damaged by Edward Snowden’s decision to leak information about intelligence-gathering and The Guardian newspaper’s decision to publish it. Mr Brokenshire said that as a result of the publication of classified intelligence documents, the secret services expect to lose track of several “very dangerous” groups. Brokenshire commented “once an adversary knows if and how we can read their communications, they will change their behaviour”.
Mr Brokenshire went on to advocate that intelligence services be given more powers to intercept and monitor communications and defended the powers of GCHQ, dismissing allegations that that it had the capability to listen in to and log all private conservations. Meanwhile, Labour MP Paul Flynn said the debate over The Guardian’s decision to publish information was “scaremongering” which “disgraces Parliament”.
Further concerns surface over Future Force 2020 reservist plan
The Times reports that former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP has warned that the Future Force 2020 may have to be abandoned in the face of difficulties recruiting and retaining reservists. The MOD plans to replace thousands of full-time soldiers with army reservists; however Dr Fox has said this will become increasingly difficult as the economy recovers and any attempt to increase numbers sufficiently will require the co-operation of employers. He commented: “that’s something that has to be managed; otherwise there might be a major disincentive for any employer to take on someone who is in the reserves”.
Dr Fox added that during his tenure as Defence Secretary he committed to only decreasing the number of regular soldiers when there were reservists trained and equipped to replace them. He said the MOD would have to see how the employment market goes in the next few years and “work accordingly”.
The intervention by Dr Fox comes after serving and former officers warned that the Government may not be able to meet its recruitment targets in the timescale allocated. A MOD source said there was no evidence to suggest that reservist recruitment would go down as the economy picked up. The spokesman described the target of 30,000 reservists as “challenging” but one the MOD was “committed to achieving”.
Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports that General Sir Nick Houghton has warned that the British Army is facing “huge challenges” as it cuts 20,000 regular soldiers and tries to boost its reserves. The Chief of Defence Staff said the difficulties were heightened by having to bring back thousands of troops from Germany, fight a continuing campaign in Afghanistan and taking on unexpected duties such as securing the London 2012 Olympics.
As highlighted in last week’s monitoring and in The Telegraph this week, MPs passed a Common’s motion urging the Government to stop plans to double the size of the Army Reserve while the regular Army is cut from 100,000 to 82,000 by 2020. A leaked MOD document last week also warned that reforms were “failing” because cuts to the defence budget were putting off potential new soldiers and making Britain a “hostile recruiting environment”. Sir Nick said it was too early to the judge the reservist plan, adding that the MOD “have produced a good offer” and the message had to be put out that joining was something exciting with a “very strong future”.
Convicted computer hackers could be recruited to UK’s cyber defence force
The BBC reports that convicted computer hackers could be recruited to the UK’s cyber defence force if they pass security vetting, according to the head of the new unit. The Government are currently recruiting to the Joint Cyber Reserve Unit to defend against cyber-attacks and potentially launch attacks on other systems. In July, it emerged that the UK was seeing about 70 sophisticated cyber espionage operations a month against government or industry networks. GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban told the BBC that business secrets were being stolen on “an industrial scale”.
Lt Colonel Michael White, involved with the recruitment of the cyber defence force, told BBC Newsnight he would “look at individuals in the round” when assessing applicants. Lt Col White said recruitment would be focused on “capability development” rather than “personality traits”. Under the £500 million plan, the MOD is set to recruit hundreds of reservists as computer experts to work alongside regular armed forces. The MOD said recruitment would target regular personnel leaving the armed forces, current and former reservists with the required skills, and civilians with the appropriate technological knowledge.
When asked by Newsnight whether someone with the right skills would be ruled out if they had a criminal record for hacking, Lt White replied that if the vetting authority was happy then “why not?” The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP said that the Armed Forces, overall, do not have an absolute bar on people with criminal convictions and added that he could foresee circumstances in which convicted hackers could be employed. However, former hackers have warned that the revelations about mass surveillance programmes carried out by British intelligence agencies had damaged the attractiveness of the job.