This week's main security and defence has once again been the continuing debate within the Labour Party over the future of the Trident system. The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn has suggested the UK could have Trident submarines without nuclear weapons, a move that would mean disarmament while protecting defence jobs in Scotland and Cumbria. The Labour leader raised the idea as a possible compromise between his opposition to nuclear weapons and the position of the trade unions, which want to protect the jobs of workers who will build replacement Trident submarines. Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry later confirmed that the idea would be considered as part of Labour’s defence review, which was launched last week. Ms Thornberry said it was the “Japanese option” to maintain submarines and nuclear capabilities without actually having operational nuclear weapons.
The Daily Telegraph reports that one of Britain's biggest trade unions will oppose the ‘no warheads’ plan. It is understood that senior figures in the GMB union believe the plan is “incoherent” and “not credible” and that the organisation will not endorse Mr Corbyn's idea. The concept has also received significant media criticism, and The Times has published an opinion piece by the Chair of the Defence Committee Julian Lewis and former Chief of the General Staff Gen. Sir Mike Jackson rejecting any move to scrap the UK’s nuclear weapons.
In order to capitalise on Labour's difficulties with Trident, this week has seen the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stage a visit to Faslane, with extensive coverage by The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Financial Times and Herald Scotland amongst others. The trip involved Mr Fallon and the reporters accompanying him taking a tour of the Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vigilant. During the visit, the Defence Secretary described a Trident nuclear weapons programme in which submarines would be retained but go to sea without warheads as “pointless”, comparing it to going into a fight with an imitation gun.
The concept of retaining a fleet of submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles but without the nuclear weapons is one that no country in the world utilises. Were the UK to abandon its nuclear weapons, it would take years to rebuild them – far longer than any crisis during which they might be required would last.
- Air Chief Marshal named as new Chief of the Defence Staff
- Prime Minister calls for crackdown on 'spurious' military legal claims
- Marines guarding Trident accused of bullying recruits
- City of London Police to request new anti-terrorist powers
- Fears over more powers for police volunteers
- MoD announces sites to be sold for development
- Report into Afghan campaign published
- UK to proceed with Challenger 2 tank upgrade
Air Chief Marshal named as new Chief of the Defence Staff
The Times reports that Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, has been chosen as the new head of the Armed Forces in an apparent snub to a top Army officer and the head of the Royal Navy who had been favourites for the job. He will take over the top post from General Sir Nicholas Houghton in the summer. His appointment will be welcomed by many senior officers within the MoD who regard him as a strong, smart leader who is not afraid of speaking truth to power.
General Sir Richard Barrons, the incumbent Joint Forces commander, had been regarded as one of the most likely people to take over from Sir Nicholas, even though his appointment would make it three Army officers in a row as Chief of the Defence Staff. Also in the running had been Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord. The top job had been considered his to lose three years ago because it was “the Navy’s turn” to lead the military, defence sources said at the time.
Prime Minister calls for crackdown on 'spurious' military legal claims
The BBC reports that the Prime Minister has said he wants to “stamp out” what he called “spurious” legal claims against British troops returning from war. David Cameron said ministers had been asked to draw up plans to restrict claims, including by curbing financial incentives for “no win, no fee” cases. About 280 UK veterans are currently being investigated over alleged abuse by soldiers during the Iraq War. Mr Cameron said there was now “an industry trying to profit from spurious claims” against UK military personnel.
A spokesman for law firm Leigh Day – currently under investigation for misconduct during an aborted trial of UK military personnel – said Mr Cameron should not challenge the principle that “no-one is above the law, not us, not the British Army and not the government”.
Marines guarding Trident accused of bullying recruits
The Times reports that Royal Marines guarding Britain’s nuclear submarine base in Scotland allegedly subjected recruits to illegal initiation ceremonies, described as “beasting”. Up to twelve young commandos were allegedly forced by a number of their superiors to take part in a “rite of passage”, a source has claimed. This would most likely have involved being forced to do 100 press-ups with someone sitting on their back, the source added. The Royal Navy Police have begun an investigation into the allegations. It is understood that no one in the Fleet Protection Group at Faslane was seriously hurt.
New guidance has been issued in the Armed Forces to make clear that any form of initiation ceremony, beasting or bullying is against military law. Allegations about the initiation ceremonies come as the Armed Forces prepare for fresh scrutiny over one of the most damaging cases involving bullying and abuse in recent history. A full inquest before a jury is due to begin next month into the death of a teenage Army recruit more than 20 years ago. Private Cheryl James, 18, was one of four young soldiers who died from gunshot wounds at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in 1995.
City of London Police to request new anti-terrorist powers
The Evening Standard reports that police have requested instant emergency powers to close roads in the City of London if there is intelligence of a potential terror attack. Britain’s first anti-terrorism traffic regulation order (ATTRO) will be one of the most significant powers sought for the Square Mile since the introduction of “ring of steel” checkpoints, blanket CCTV and number plate recognition readers after IRA bombings in the Eighties and Nineties. An ATTRO would allow police to control the movement of pedestrians and vehicles on City streets as part of a package of measures aimed at improving the security.
Operationally, the new power seeks to override the European Convention on Human Rights on the peaceful enjoyment of property. However, the police believe its public interest “outweighs any interference with private rights”.
Fears over more powers for police volunteers
Sky News reports that the body which represents rank-and-file officers has warned that a move to give police volunteers more powers is dangerous, The criticism by the Police Federation is in response to an announcement by Home Secretary Theresa May that police chiefs would get the power to give more responsibility to support staff and unpaid helpers, without becoming a special constable. It will open the way for members of the public, who are experts in computing or accountancy, to be recruited to help tackle cyber or financial crime. The Home Office stressed that volunteers will not be given powers of arrest or stop and search.
The proposals were first unveiled last year in a Home Office consultation which suggested civilians could carry out tasks such as interviewing victims and taking witness statements. It also raised the prospect of uniformed police community support volunteers (PCSVs). Officials have confirmed chief constables will be able to hand a wider range of powers to civilian staff and volunteers.
MoD announces sites to be sold for development
The MoD has announced the release of twelve MOD sites as part of the Department’s drive for greater efficiency. The income generated – an estimated £500m – will be ploughed back into defence. These sites will form the first tranche of the MOD’s plan to reduce by 30 per cent the size of its built estate. The 12 sites are: Kneller Hall in Twickenham; Claro and Deverell barracks in Ripon; RAF sites Molesworth and Alconbury in Cambridgeshire, and RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk; Lodge Hill in Kent; Craigiehall in Edinburgh; HMS Nelson Wardroom in Portsmouth; Hullavington Airfield in Wiltshire; RAF Barnham in Suffolk; and MoD Feltham in London.
The MOD will announce further sites in due course, with a full list published in the Footprint Strategy later in 2016.
Report into Afghan campaign published
The Sunday Times reports that a shortage of specialist equipment resulted in exhausted British bomb disposal experts dying on the front line in Afghanistan. The Army’s bomb hunters were unable to transport the best remote-control robots with them in Helmand because of a lack of armoured vehicles, forcing troops into highly dangerous “hands-on” work, according to an internal review by the Army of its tactics during the 13-year war. Twenty-two bomb disposal experts died in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2013. Other revelations contained within the report include:
- Air crew used different maps from those handed out to soldiers fighting on the ground, causing confusion and contributing to two “friendly fire” incidents in which four British troops died
- Commanders were at times “not sufficiently candid” with ministers over likely casualties
- Senior British commanders in Afghanistan used “Stone Age” communication equipment and had to “beg” for helicopters to take them to the front line
- The UK was “out of step” with its allies in not using battle tanks, despite these being shown to be effective weapons against the Taliban.
The review said the British Army emerged from Afghanistan “resilient, combat- hardened and self-confident”, but the Army was “slow in understanding . . . and resourcing” the war. The MoD said: “This review rightly identifies that no campaign will be perfect, and will help inform future planning, but it should not distract from the heroism of our people, including those 454 service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
UK to proceed with Challenger 2 tank upgrade
Defence News reports that the MoD has kick-started a program to update the British Army’s neglected Challenger 2 main battle tank fleet with at least three contractors submitting initial proposals to undertake the work. Officially known as the Challenger 2 Life Extension Program (LEP), the update, including initial logistic support, could be worth up to £700 million, said the MoD’s Contract Bulletin. The move follows a reappraisal of the threat from a resurgent Russia and the public unveiling last year of the new generation T-14 Armata tank at a military parade in Moscow.