Defence news this week has been dominated by news that contractor BAE Systems is to cut nearly 2,000 jobs across the country, a decision prompted by reduced orders from the Ministry of Defence, including for Typhoon fighters, alongside a corporate decision made within the BAE to refocus the company. The UK’s defence capabilities have also again been called into question, with news published exclusively by The Sun that the Royal Navy is facing the loss of its beachhead landing capacity – with the MoD denying any decisions had been made – but the consequences of such a move including a stark reduction in the UK’s amphibious landing capabilities, and reduced capacity to deploy the Royal Marines.
A new Chairman has also been appointed to the MoD Police Committee; while Chief of Staff to the Army General Nick Carter has joined the list of serving and retired senior officers calling for reinvestment in the Armed Forces.
MoD Police Committee appoints new chair
The MPD committee has appointed the former Commander-in-Chief of RAF Strike Command, Sir Brian Burridge, as its new Chairman. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon approved the appointment of Sir Brian, who succeeded David Riddle on 1st October. After leaving the RAF, Sir Brian chaired the UK Defence Solutions Centre. Sir Brian said that he was “very much looking forward to working with the MoD police force again and recognise the significance of their role in securing some of the nation’s most sensitive assets”. MoD Director General of Head Office and Commissioning Services, Julie Taylor, said Sir Brian “brings an understanding of defence and a wealth of experience in business, and the factors that create successful transformational change in organisations.”
The DPF has written to Sir Brian to welcome him into his new role.
Army Chief calls on public to support Army again
The Daily Telegraph has reported that Chief of Staff to the Army General Sir Nick Carter has called for a fresh approach to support and invest in the Army; also suggesting the public mistakenly believes “war is a choice.” Speaking at the Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture, Sir Nick commented that the past two decades of military activity, including the unpopular and inconclusive campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, have left the public unsupportive of “boots on the ground.” He expressed concern that this has resulted in a reluctance to use and subsequently to invest in the Army, and that soldiers are now shown sympathy by the public instead of empathy. This comes at a time when the Army is under its target strength of 82,000 troops by 4,000, and Sir Nick expressed concern that such perceptions of the Army could negatively impact recruitment.
General Sir Nick Carter’s comments are the latest from a number of serving and retired senior officers on the needs and funding of the Armed Force. Sir Nick’s public intervention has been interpreted as an effort on behalf of the Armed Forces senior leadership to press for greater funding ahead of the Budget; with the Cabinet Office also conducting a review of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). However, as noted previously, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to struggle to allocate significant funding to the MoD. His job has been made more difficult this week by confirmation that the Office of Budget Responsibility that it has overstated budget forecasts, likely leaving the Chancellor with far less scope to increase departments’ budgets.
Reservist soldiers are set to lose their jobs as recruiters for the Army
The Sun has reported that officials have announced intentions to restructure the Army’s careers department, releasing 120 reservists serving as recruiters for the Army, with outsourcing firm Capita introducing civilians to do the job instead. A spokesperson for the Army stated that the changes would “provide an improved balance of recruitment specialists and military personnel,” but one of the reservists affected by the announcement commented, “when a potential applicant asks what it’s like in the Army, the civilian recruiters won’t have a clue.”
The Armed Forces has faced prolonged difficulties in achieving targets for reservist recruitment, while the Army (and indeed the other Armed Forces) have suffered very public reductions to their numbers. The decision to use an external contractor for reservist recruitment is likely to be the subject of further scrutiny and questioning over MoD spending.
The Navy faces losing its beach-landing ships in the latest round of MoD cuts
Proposed cuts to the Royal Navy could result in HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, its two amphibious assault ships, being taken out of service, BBC Newsnight has claimed. This would greatly impact the Navy’s defence capabilities and its capacity to participate in overseas operations, as it would compromise the UK’s ability to land personnel, principally the Royal Marines, on beachheads The MoD has called the claims “pure speculation” and insisted that no decisions on the future of the two ships have been made yet. A naval officer, however, told the BBC that “this is the worst procurement decision of the past half century.”
Speculation that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark could be withdrawn from service has prompted significant reaction with the newly elected MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, Luke Pollard, tabling a series of parliamentary questions to elicit further information from MoD ministers. The suggestion vital capacity could be withdrawn again highlights the financial difficulties within the MoD, and will prompt further questions over decision making following public debate on the need for the two new aircraft carriers. The DPF is working separately to secure an introductory meeting with Mr Pollard.
Cornwall sergeant admits shortages leave police force without any available officers
The Daily Mail has reported that a member of the Devon and Cornwall constabulary has admitted that its services are so stretched that there are occasions when officers have been unable to respond to emergency calls from the public. Speaking at a local council meeting in Cornwall, Sergeant Mark Hooper highlighted the strain on the constabulary’s resources, with its number of officers expected to fall to 3,900 by 2020 from 6,200 in 2010. The area has also experienced increasing crime rates, including a 30 per cent increase in rape cases in a year.
While the comments of Sergeant Hooper have been made in a very local meeting, they highlight the pressures on Home Office constabularies and the particular challenges of ensuring officers can respond to emergencies in rural settings. The DPF has, and will continue to, highlight the importance of MDP officers within rural settings as part of our ongoing communications with parliamentarians.
MoD answered question on nuclear weapons supply chain
Harriet Baldwin, Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, has answered a written question submitted by Green MP Caroline Lucas, asking the extent to which the Department had collaborated with BEIS regarding UK civil nuclear industry skills and supply chains in maintaining the UK’s defence and civil nuclear capabilities over the past 10 years. Ms Baldwin stated that the MoD regularly works with other departments, including BEIS, on maintaining the UK’s defence and civil nuclear capabilities, and both Departments are on the cross-Government Nuclear Skills Strategy Group and the Nuclear Industry Council, and had co-chaired the UK Nuclear Skills Summit in March 2017.
BAE announces job losses
The Times has reported that defence contractor BAE Systems has announced that it is to cut 1,950 jobs in response to an expected reduction in the order of Typhoon fighter and Hawk training jets. BAE Systems Chief Executive Charles Woodburn, stated the aim of the restructure was to give the company “a sharper competitive edge and a renewed focus on technology.” The cuts are expected to be enacted over a three-year period through a programme of voluntary redundancies where possible. Approximately 750 jobs are expected to be lost at BAE’s plant in Warton, Lancashire; with 750 losses expected at Samlesbury outside Preston; 400 job losses at the Brough plant in East Yorkshire; 340 job losses at the naval dockyard in Portsmouth; and 150 job losses in BAE’s Applied Intelligence division.
The Unite union issued a statement declaring it would fight the decision, calling it “a betrayal of a loyal workforce and devastatingly short sighted,” also urging the UK Government to invest more in UK production. Unite also accused the ministers of sending too much taxpayer money earmarked for defence spending to factories overseas.
Further concerns over Lockheed Martin F-35 jets
The Times reports that the National Audit Office has reduced its confidence rating in the F-35 Lightning II programme being delivered to schedule from amber in June to amber/red. The primary concern raised by the National Audit Office is understood to be regarding simulators, software and weapons, after it was also revealed in July that it was struggling to stay to budget. The multi-billion pound project is scheduled to have its first aircraft operating by 2020.
A military training facility has opened in Scotland
Major General Robert Bruce CBE DSO General Officer Scotland has officially opened a new ‘state of the art’ training complex in Garelochhead, the MoD has announced. The upgrade, which cost £3 million, will train personnel for overseas combat. It includes ‘a grouping and zeroing range, an electronic target range, and a single range building complex with classrooms, a targetry store and workshops.’
Faslane worker faces jail after for embezzlement
An engineering apprentice at HM Naval Base Clyde has been found guilty of stealing £19,000 from the MoD over a two-year period. He appeared before Dumbarton Sherriff Court on Friday 29th September. Sheriff Maxwell Hendry allowed a four-week continuance for the defence to obtain evidence of the defendant’s mental ill health as mitigation.