This week’s UK defence news has focused on a speech by Prime Minister David Cameron, which addressed the need for Britain to engage in a new five-year push against Islamic extremism. The Guardian reports that the Prime Minister said Britain was a successful, diverse society but had to “confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country… who don’t really identify with Britain – and feel little or no attachment to other people here.”
Amongst the initiatives he announced, Mr Cameron said that parents would in effect be given the right to cancel the passports of their children under 16 to prevent them from travelling to war zones. He promised new “measures to guard against the radicalisation of children in so-called supplementary schools or tuition centres” – sites of education not currently inspected by Ofsted. Additionally, the Prime Minister reiterated that new action needed to be taken to give the broadcasting regulator powers to close down access to the UK for foreign TV channels that broadcast “hate preachers” and extremist content.
The Prime Minister also used his speech to announce that Louise Casey, head of the government’s Troubled Families Unit, will chair a review of ways to boost opportunity and integration in the most isolated and deprived communities. Ms Casey will look at issues such as how to ensure people learn English, how to boost women’s employment, and how state agencies can work with communities to promote integration and opportunity.
In other political news, the House of Commons and House of Lords have now risen for the summer recess. Both Houses will return on 7 September, before rising again on 17 September for the party conference season.
· Charges brought against suspect allegedly targeting US military personnel in the UK
Charges brought against suspect allegedly targeting US military personnel in the UK
The Daily Telegraph reports that it has been alleged in court that a delivery driver planned to carry out a Lee Rigby-style terror outrage on American servicemen in the UK in an Islamic State-inspired knife and bomb attack. Junead Ahmed Khan, 24, is said to have discreetly monitored the US air bases at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, both in Suffolk, as part of his delivery route. He planned to stage a car crash by either running over airmen or crashing in to their vehicle outside a base before attacking them with a knife and detonating a suicide vest. He even allegedly wanted to buy the same kind of combat knife used by the notorious British Islamic State executioner Jihadi John.
Khan was arrested at his workplace at Alliance Healthcare in Letchworth, where he was a contracted driver. He appeared in Westminster Magistrates Court on Tuesday charged with planning a terror attack. He is also faced separate terror charges, along with Shazib Khan who also appeared at the court, with planning to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.
Senior offices accused of failing to refer assault and sexual offences to Royal Military Police
The Independent reports that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC) has warned that senior military officers may be failing to refer crimes such as assault and sexual offences to the Royal Military Police (RMP). HMIC inspectors were unable to corroborate the claims, but stated that “were this the case, it would be unacceptable as such action compromises the independence of any investigation, sharing of information and care for the victims”. Concerns regarding a culture of closing ranks to protect suspects was also highlighted.
The issues are raised in a new report that examines a HMIC inspection into the way in which the RMP investigates crimes. Although the management of the RMP is judged to be “good” in general terms, a number of areas “require improvement” such as collecting and using intelligence, the recording of crime, the oversight of investigations, and training. A series of recommendations the RMP has been asked to implement by the end of this month includes finding out if the force can fall under the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). If this is possible, then this should happen by the end of the year, says the report. Other changes necessary by the end of this month include having an accurate record of crime and a way of holding investigators to account.
Plans for 2015 Spending Review published
HM Treasury has published a document outlining the Government’s approach to the 2015 Spending Review. This document identifies areas of priority spending, as well as areas where the Government thinks a further £20 billion of savings can be made to achieve deficit reduction. The outcome of the Spending Review will be published on 25th November.
As part of the Spending Review, HM Treasury is inviting non-ringfenced government departments to model two scenarios of 25 per cent and 40 per cent savings in real terms by 2019-2020. Whilst defence spending is effectively protected, many other departments – most notably the Home Office – are facing major budget cuts.
RAF leading force to counter terrorist surface-to-air missiles
The Sunday Times reports that RAF personnel are training foreign governments in how to prevent airliners being shot down by shoulder-launched missiles, amid fears that stockpiles of the weapons have fallen into the hands of terrorists. UK government officials estimate that up to 10,000 portable, ground-to-air missile systems, known as “MANPADS”, went missing from Libyan arms bunkers after the 2011 revolution. The proliferation of such weapons, which can hit aircraft flying below 20,000ft, has also been fuelled by the Syrian civil war. Ministers have been warned that it is “too late” to control the distribution of the missiles, some of which are believed to have been seized by militant groups, including the Islamic State.
The “counter MANPADS team” is overseen by the Department for Transport (DfT) and also includes experts from the Metropolitan police and British Airways. The team’s activities were disclosed last week by Clive Wright, head of international strategy in DfT’s aviation security division.
The vast majority of the MANPADS from Libyan stocks will be unserviceable due to lack of maintenance, and even those that are functional would require a considerable amount of skill to use. However, they still represent a significant threat to aircraft flying at low altitude.
MPs and peers to investigate British military personnel serving in other forces
The Guardian reports that a cross-party group of MPs and peers plans to investigate the UK’s practice of embedding military personnel with other forces, following revelations that British pilots seconded to the US military have bombed Syria. The all-party parliamentary group on drones, which is chaired by Labour deputy leadership candidate Tom Watson MP, with Tory backbencher David Davis MP as vice-chair, has decided to hold an inquiry into British military collaboration with the US when parliament returns from summer recess. The increasing closeness of the armed forces of Britain and its allies – particularly the US – was highlighted on Monday when the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, told parliament that “up to eighty” British personnel had served as members of the US, Canadian and French armed forces since the start of military action against the Islamic State last August, including pilots who have carried out strikes on targets inside Syria.
Senior Conservative accuses David Cameron of improvising Syria policy
The Guardian reports that Julian Lewis MP, the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, has accused David Cameron of making up Syria policy “on the hoof”, as the Prime Minister gave his clearest indication yet that he wanted to extend the British air campaign against the Islamic State. Giving an interview to Meet the Press on NBC on Sunday, Mr Cameron acknowledged that he would need parliamentary approval for further action. But he promised to “destroy this caliphate, whether it is in Iraq or in Syria”. But on the BBC’s The World this Weekend, Mr Lewis described the government’s strategy for combating the group as incoherent and called on the Prime Minister to present a more considered strategy to Parliament.
British fighter numbers to reach all time low
The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain’s fighter aircraft fleet is set to shrink to its smallest in the RAF’s history as ageing jets retire by the end of the decade. Numbers will be squeezed to only around 127 front line combat jets at best under current plans to retire Britain’s Tornado GR4s and early model Typhoons in 2019, before new F-35 stealth fighters arrive. The RAF’s reduced fighter fleet will be made up of technically advanced planes but “no aircraft, no matter how capable, can be in more than one place at any time”, said Gareth Jennings, aviation desk editor at HIS Jane’s. Defence chiefs have already warned that the RAF’s fast jet fleet is stretched to the limit and the new analysis from IHS Jane’s warns it is “perverse” to cut numbers further. Gen Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, used an air power conference in London last week to publicly warn how thinly stretched the RAF is.
Test reactor at Dounreay shut down
The MoD has announced that the test nuclear reactor at the Naval Reactor Test Establishment in Caithness has been officially shut down having safely completed its work. The reactor was used as a prototype to give advance notice of any potential issues or problems that might occur on board a submarine carrying the same type of power source. After more than thirteen years of operation, the STF reactor is no longer needed and so has been shut down in preparation for future decommissioning of the facility. Now work begins on post-operational activity, much of which will focus on the defueling of the reactor, clearance of fuel from the site and preparations for future decommissioning and disposal of both the reactors on the site and their component parts expected sometime after 2022. Post-operational activity continues until about 2022, so the existing test reactor workforce will be substantially re-deployed onto the post-operational work.