The Conservative party announced this week, at its Party Conference, that the Government would be establishing a cyber-defence force for the purpose of defending the UK against cyber-attacks and, if necessary, launching cyber-attacks against other systems. Whilst delivering a speech to the conference the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP was heckled by two retired servicemen of the Royal Fusiliers over the issue of army personnel cuts. The Conservative Party Conference concluded on Wednesday this week, marking the end of the Conference season. Both the House of Commons and House of Lords will return to Parliament on Tuesday 8th October.
According to The Daily Telegraph, combat stress among British servicemen and women has increased by a quarter, with more than 5,000 military personnel being diagnosed with a mental disorder last year. The newspaper says that many of the diagnoses are connected to current or past service in war zones and the figure is a 27% increase on the previous year. Fears have been raised regarding the effect of the battlefield on mental health, as well as the potential implications of next year’s Afghanistan withdrawal and mass redundancy coinciding.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that the MOD in Northern Ireland has become the first MOD department within the UK to sign up to a major new charter aimed at supporting victims of domestic violence. The newspaper says the move “unifies the efforts of the MOD Police, the Royal Military Police and Police Service of Northern Ireland”. More than 1,000 civilian MOD employees have not traditionally enjoyed the same support as employees from civil society organisations specializing in victim support.
Amendments to Defence Reform Bill published
The House of Commons Public Bill Committee has published a notice of amendments tabled up to and including Thursday 3rd October. All the amendments submitted to the Committee so far have been on behalf of the Shadow Defence Secretary Alison Seabeck MP and Labour MP Kevan Jones.
Included in the amendments is an insertion to Clause 1 that the provision for contractual obligations is placed on the contractor company operating under the DE&S contract. Also included is an insertion in Clause 2 that before financial assistance is granted to contractors, that the Secretary of State for Defence will lay before both houses a report detailing the circumstances requiring financial assistance and will withhold approval of any assistance until the report has been laid.
Hammond announces Cyber Reserve Unit and dismisses Lib Dem Trident policy
The Times reports that the Government and defence industry are running a series of competitions to find cyber experts to form a Joint Cyber Reserve Unit. The unit will defend the UK in cyber space and will, if necessary, launch cyber-attacks. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP told the Conservative Party Conference that his ministry was looking for hundreds of computer experts to join the unit which “will be an essential part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyber space”. Hammond added that the move to a full-spectrum military cyber capability “including a strike capability” was a response to the “growing cyber threat”. The new force will cost up to £500 million.
Speaking on the first day of the conference, Hammond also condemned the Liberal Democrat’s proposed alternative to a like-for-like replacement of Trident as “the worst of all worlds”. The Liberal Democrats adopted a policy at their Conference, earlier in September, which would see the deterrent consisting of two submarines which would not mount round the clock missions. Hammond said it was “woolly thinking better suited to sitting on the fence than sitting at the Cabinet table”.
Army documents reveal further axe of 3,000 soldiers for January
According to the Times, the Army is proposing to axe almost 3,000 soldiers in a new round of redundancies in January. The newspaper says that Armed Forces documents it has seen reveal “friction” between the Ministry of Defence and Downing Street over how the full-time Army should be shrunk to an affordable size. The Armed Forces Redundancy Steering Group advised in July that the Army would lose between 2,500 and 2,900 jobs in the latest round of cuts but the MOD was worried that Downing Street would demand that job losses across all three services were announced together.
The Times says the sackings are “certain to embarrass the Prime Minister” who has come under criticism for the scale of cuts. An Army source told the newspaper that David Cameron is increasingly sensitive to the bad publicity that surrounds soldiers losing their jobs. The revelation also comes as Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP was “heckled” at the Conservative conference this week by former servicemen, including Colonel Ian Brazier, who were angry at the government’s military cuts. Colonel Brazier told the Times that the Government should be looking for extra money to retain soldiers, rather than looking at ways to ensure the redundancy programme can go ahead.
Reservists more likely to suffer from PTSD warns military charity
The Times reports that plans to replace thousands of regular army soldiers with reservists risk a huge increase in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. In an interview with Sky News, the CEO of military mental health charity Combat Stress, Andrew Cameron RN, said that figures showed Territorial Army troops were 50% more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Mr Cameron said the increased susceptibility in reservists was because “they don’t get the level of support from their regiment, their ship or their squadron that they might have done if they were a regular”.
The MOD is set to reveal new statistics on the numbers of soldiers suffering mental health problems. Previous studies showed that about 4% of regular soldiers are diagnosed with full blown PTSD, while 6% of reserves are diagnosed. Mental health charities say the figures mask higher numbers who have left military service or are coping with lesser symptoms.