This week’s main security and defence news has been the release of a National Audit Office (NAO) report revealing the often poor condition of the UK defence estate. The Times reports that Britain’s two new £6.2 billion aircraft carriers could struggle to go to war because of a failure by the Government to maintain the base from which they would operate. The MoD cannot afford to replace electricity cables that are more than 80 years old at the Portsmouth Naval Base, the spending watchdog said, and “This may jeopardise the carriers’ ability to operate.” The base is one example among many of repairs needed across the MoD. The crumbling condition of Army barracks and RAF bases poses a significant risk to the ability of the Armed Forces to operate, the NAO said.
The NAO added that the military must spend at least £8.5 billion over the next 30 years to prevent some of its 32,000 buildings and other facilities from falling further into decline. A decision to hire Capita, the outsourcing group, to manage the estate more efficiently has failed to deliver the desired results, according to the watchdog. The NAO described the £328 million, ten-year contract as containing “fundamental weaknesses”. The 47-page NAO report sets out how a failure to spend money to fix minor problems, such as leaks, invariably leads to the need to spend more money later when the problem becomes critical. One example is a decision not to spend money fixing a hole in the roof of a medical centre at RAF Valley in Anglesey. Ultimately, the whole roof had to be replaced.
Many of the issues in the NAO report are the result of short-term savings measures that ultimately lead to higher long-term costs.
The publication of the report was highlighted in several the national newspapers. In response, the DPF had a letter published in The Times, accepting the findings of the NAO as unsurprising, but noting that further investment in infrastructure must not be at the expense of security. The letter from National Chairman Eamon Keating also noted the importance but excessive demands on the MDP.
The letter can be accessed by members with a subscription to The Times by clicking here. Unfortunately, due to copyright, we are unable to circulate a PDF of the letter in the newspaper.
Barack Obama says Donald Trump will not abandon NATO commitment
The Guardian reports that Donald Trump will retain America’s commitment to the NATO alliance, Barack Obama has said, seeking to reassure a jittery world of continued American leadership. The Republican President-elect was often critical of NATO during the presidential election campaign, branding it “obsolete” while praising Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a source of alarm in foreign capitals. But speaking at the White House before heading to Europe on his final foreign trip as president, Mr Obama said Trump indicated when they met last week that he would not pull out of the decades-old alliance.
The President also said he believed Trump would come to realise the reality and gravity of the presidency. “I think the learning curve always continues,” he said. “This is a remarkable job. It is like no other job on earth and it is a constant flow of information and challenges and issues. That is truer now than it’s ever been … Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up.”
However, The Daily Telegraph has reports that Britain should prepare for a fundamental rift with America over military matters after the election of Donald Trump and may need to instead forge closer defence ties with Europe, according to the deputy head of a respected think tank. The Royal United Services Institute’s Professor Sir Malcolm Chalmers said the shake-up in Washington meant “there should be no taboos about discussing the possibility of a fundamental divergence of outlook with the US”. Prof. Chalmers said the MoD might not be able to rely on Washington to make up for gaps in UK military equipment and expertise. He said instead the MoD had to see if it could fill the gaps itself, or “contemplate moving to a less ambitious strategic posture in the event of a US retreat from its international commitments”
There is no reliable way to tell what to expect from Donald Trump’s security and defence policy, and it is likely that the first clues will only emerge with the appointments of the new Secretary of State (the US equivalent of Foreign Secretary) and Defence Secretary. These are expected within the next fortnight.
Defence Secretary warns against European Army
The Evening Standard reports that Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has warned EU leaders that “loose talk” of an EU army risks undermining NATO at a time of heightened world tension. The senior Cabinet minister urged his European counterparts only to back military moves that bolster the NATO. He issued the warning after European Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker argued that, after Donald Trump’s election as US President, the EU could not rely on America in the long term for its security and so needed a “new start” in defence up to creating a “European Army”.
But Sir Michael said: “Britain will only support proposals to strengthen European security that complement NATO, not duplicate it. That means doing more to improve NATO-EU co-operation on cyber, hybrid threats, and maritime security.” His remarks were echoed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who warned against undermining the “fundamental security architecture that has looked after us for 70 years”.
Iraqis paid to travel abroad to give evidence against British soldiers
The Daily Telegraph reports that a parliamentary inquiry has been told that Iraqis are being paid by the UK taxpayer to travel abroad to give evidence against British war veterans, and that soldiers are being put under secret surveillance. The Iraqis, who have accused troops of abuse over incidents dating back as long ago as 2003, are given spending and living allowances after being flown to hotels overseas for interviews.
Mark Warwick, the head of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), insisted to the defence sub-committee that witnesses were paid “the most basic level of expenses” when being flown overseas as part of a sliding scale of payments. The parliamentary inquiry also heard that British troops are being subjected to secret surveillance by private investigators hired by a recruitment agency. One of these individuals was arrested by the MDP for impersonating a police officer in order to gain access to an Army base.
However, the MoD defended the inquiry, stating “Our Armed Forces are rightly held to the highest standards and credible serious allegations of criminal behaviour must be investigated. An independent investigation is the best way to make sure that innocent personnel are not dragged through international courts without cause, leaving the door open to a lengthy, and costly public inquiry.”
Atomic Weapons Establishment strike: 24-hour walk-out takes place
The BBC reports that a 24-hour strike has taken place at a nuclear weapons factory responsible for making Britain's Trident warheads. The Prospect union said members voted to go ahead with the walk-out following a “derisory pension offer”. An Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) spokesman said it had undertaken “detailed contingency planning” to maintain the site's safety. He added: “AWE's commitment is to put in place future pension arrangements which ensure the long-term affordability of the scheme.”
The union said its members will hold a rally and protest march at the Aldermaston facility. It said 87% of members who took part in the ballot voted in favour of the action. Turnout was 68%.
Royal Navy to lose anti-ship missiles
The Daily Telegraph reports that Royal Navy warships will be left without anti-ship missiles and be forced to rely on naval guns because of cost-cutting, the MoD has admitted. The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.
Naval sources said the decision was “like Nelson deciding to get rid of his cannons and go back to muskets” and one senior former officer said warships would “no longer be able to go toe-to-toe with the Chinese or Russians”. Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said: “This is just another example of where the lack of money is squeezing and making the nation less safe. A spokesman for the MoD said: “All Royal Navy ships carry a range of offensive and defensive weapons systems. Backed by a rising defence budget and a £178 billion equipment plan, upgrade options to all our weapons are kept under constant review.”
The removal of the Royal Navy’s anti-ship missiles is the most extreme example of an entire capability being scrapped since the loss of the RAF’s maritime patrol aircraft in 2010. Whilst it is still possible that the decision will be reversed, the current situation demonstrates a desperate shortage of funding for even basic equipment. Despite MoD claims of an increasing defence budget, the Department faces lean years ahead with Chancellor Philip Hammond making his Autumn Statement next week, at which he’s expected to announce the largest deterioration in public finances since 2011. The MoD is likely to face further demands to find savings, with the DPF continuing to highlight that further demands to the MDP are unachievable and would undermine security.
Police must open their ranks to recruits from the military, civil service and business, says Home Secretary
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Home Secretary has said that police must open their ranks to “bright and ambitious” recruits from the military, civil service, finance and business. Amber Rudd revealed that just eight people have been recruited from outside police ranks under the first intake of the Direct Entry scheme earlier this year, as she urged police chiefs to do more. She ruled out introducing a target, however. It came as the Metropolitan Police announced that its new chief constable will be a serving officer who could come from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or America as foreign candidates are allowed to apply for the role for the first time.
Delivering her first major speech on policing since her appointment, Ms Rudd called for “workforce reform” and a “culture change” in the police service. Ms Rudd added that some forces have made “significant improvements” on diversity but insisted there was still more to be done. “For example, the proportion of women and BME (black and minority ethnic) officers at chief officer rank remains disproportionately low”, she said.
Spit hoods used by third of UK police forces
The BBC reports that a third of UK police forces use hoods to prevent arrested people spitting or biting. The mesh fabric spit hoods are used by 17 of the UK's 49 police forces, a Freedom of Information request found. Since 2011 they have been used at least 2,486 times – in 635 cases on people with suspected mental health issues. Campaign group Liberty said the hoods were cruel and degrading, but the Police Federation said they “should be available as standard”. Four further forces are considering introducing the hoods.
Sara Ogilvie, policy officer at Liberty, said the “disturbing figures” showed “cruel, degrading and primitive spit hoods are being widely used”. She added “There is no place in a civilised society for police forcibly covering children's faces.” The Metropolitan Police Service is consulting on whether to introduce the hoods. A pilot planned for October was cancelled after London Mayor Sadiq Khan voiced concerns.