This week’s UK defence news has once again centred upon the General Election. The keynote event has been the BBC’s Daily Politics staging of a debate between the main political parties’ defence representatives. Attending were Defence Secretary Michael Fallon (Conservative), Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker (Labour), Nick Harvey (Lib Dem), Angus Robertson (SNP) and Rebecca Johnson (Green).
For the most part, all of the party representatives stuck closely to the defence polices outlined in their respective manifestos, the details of which this monitoring has relayed in recent weeks. The only significant revelation was an apparent pledge by Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker that Labour would in fact build four new submarines to support the new generation Trident system – although BBC diplomatic editor Mark Urban pointed out that he was perhaps going beyond his remit. In addition, the SNP representative gave the impression that the Party wished to protect spending on conventional defence, even though this commitment was missing from its manifesto.
Other notable moments included Michael Fallon painting himself into a corner by claiming that a minority Labour government could be forced to cancel Trident by the SNP, only to have it pointed out to him that approval for Trident’s renewal could be easily obtained if the Conservatives voted with Labour in favour of the programme; Green Party representative Rebecca Johnson denying that her party supported people’s right to be members of terrorist groups – despite such a position being stated on its website; and Vernon Coaker highlighting that the Conservatives could not afford to keep the Armed Forces at their current size and maintain equipment expenditure without spending the NATO target of two per cent of GDP. On the latter subject, as expected, no party was willing to commit to spending two per cent of GDP on defence.
Senior defence leaders issue warning over scrapping Trident
The Times reports that a group of twenty defence and security chiefs have warned that failure by the next government to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent would be “irresponsible folly” that could threaten the very survival of the nation. Weighing into the Trident debate, the cross-party lobby said that any move to abandon submarine-borne nuclear weapons would be irreversible and could end Britain’s role as a nuclear power as early as next year. Lord Robertson, a former Labour defence secretary and head of NATO, and Lord Hutton, a former Labour defence secretary, set out why the deterrent must be retained in a memo to whoever gets into No 10 after May 7. They were joined by three previous heads of the Armed Forces, three ex-Royal Navy chiefs, two former GCHQ directors and ten senior officials and politicians.
German military to abandon weapon used by UK armed police after fault found
The Guardian reports that a German Defence Minister has said that an assault rifle that tests suggest does not shoot straight in warm temperatures will not be used in the future, after weeks of controversy about the weapon, which has been in use since the 1990s. The G36 assault rifle has been the focus of a parliamentary inquiry – and jokes by TV talkshow hosts – amid reports that it is inaccurate when temperatures rise above 30C (86F) or when it heats up through constant firing.
Britain's police forces use a short-barrelled version of the weapon known as the G36C – and have a total arsenal of up to 3,000. Counter-terror and armed response unit officers use them when they need more firepower than the 9mm pistols or carbines they usually carry. Britain's National Police Chiefs' Council has asked experts at the Home Office's Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) to test the weapons to determine if the experience of the German military is reflected in their experiments.
One hundredth anniversary of Gallipoli campaign marked
The BBC reports that the Queen has attended UK ceremonies marking the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign in World War One. She took part in a two minute silence before laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William and party leaders at the memorial parade. She later joined a service of remembrance at Westminster Abbey, where she laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. At the Cenotaph, the Queen joined crowds paying tribute to the 131,000 troops who died during the Gallipoli campaign – including some 25,000 British military personnel and 10,000 from Australia and New Zealand.
Royal Navy assists in £500m drug bust
The Daily Mail reports that Britain's biggest ever drugs bust has seen more than three tonnes of cocaine, worth in excess of £500 million seized by the Royal Navy after a raid on a ship in the North Sea. The Tanzanian registered tug boat MV Hamal, manned by a Turkish gang, was intercepted by the Navy and Border Force officials about 100 miles east of the Aberdeenshire coast last week. Nine Turkish nationals have since been remanded in custody in connection with alleged drug trafficking offences. If cut and sold in the UK, the drugs would have had a likely potential street value of more than £500 million, depending on purity. Experts believe it was sourced in South America and loaded onto the boat in the Canary Islands. The high-purity drugs bust is more than three times more valuable than Britain's previous biggest haul, which took the form of cocaine worth £150million on-board a yacht off the south-west coast of Ireland in September 2014.
British Army Gurkhas join Nepal earthquake rescue efforts
The Daily Telegraph reports that an expedition team of British Army Gurkhas are at Everest base camp helping recovery efforts after they were airlifted down from higher up the mountain. The team from the Gurkha 200 Everest Expedition was airlifted from Camp 1 and flown to the devastated Base Camp earlier on Monday. The team of serving members of the Brigade of Gurkhas was attempting to climb the mountain to mark the 200th anniversary of the Nepalese soldiers’ service to the British crown. Their expedition was an attempt to see the first serving Gurkha reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain.
Meanwhile, Flightglobal reports that the UK is to bolster its commitment to the relief effort in Nepal with the deployment of three Royal Air Force Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC3 heavy-lift helicopters. An initial example has already been dismantled and moved from its RAF Odiham base to RAF Brize Norton for onward transportation to New Delhi in India, via a chartered Antonov freighter. This is likely to depart on 30 April, with two further CH-47s following over the coming days. Flightglobal understands that five crews for the helicopters will also be deployed, probably for a period of around two months.
Legislation credited with forcing UK arms companies to improve ethical conduct
The Independent reports that the Bribery Act has forced British defence companies to improve their ethical standards above rivals in France, Germany and the US, according to a group that has been typically critical of their anti-corruption practices. Transparency International UK found that all 10 British companies included in its Defence Companies Anti-Corruption Index, including BAE Systems and GKN, met the three highest bands of ethical standards. This was a huge improvement on the 2012 findings. For example, Babcock International improved from a grade D to B, and Ultra Electronics is now a B, having been rated E before. Those rated a C were found to have shown “moderate” evidence of anti-corruption programmes; the lowest grade is F. TI UK’s project officer, Katie Fish, said the firms had probably improved because they had adapted to the Bribery Act 2010. This enforced strict anti-corruption measures, such as placing strict liability on companies if they fail to prevent bribes being given on their behalf.