This week’s UK defence news has seen a continuation of the defence spending debate. The Daily Telegraph reports that General Sir Richard Dannatt has warned that Conservative voters could switch their allegiance to UKIP because of David Cameron's failure to pledge to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. Ignoring defence issues ahead of the general election is “wrong, complacent and dangerous”, the former head of the Army said. David Cameron is coming under growing pressure to use his election manifesto to pledge to spend two per cent of national income each year on defence. While the Conservatives have kept defence spending above two per cent of GDP since taking office, they have failed to promise to do so in the next parliament.
Also adding his voice to the debate has been Julian Lewis MP, a member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and co-signer of a letter that was recently published in the Daily Telegraph, which called for a swift resolution to the MDP pensions dispute. The Southern Daily Echo reports that during Prime Minister’s Questions, Dr Lewis called on Mr Cameron to commit Britain to not falling below the NATO recommended minimum of two per cent of GDP on defence spending. But, in reply, Mr Cameron ducked the challenge, merely repeating that his Government was meeting the two per cent target “this year and next year”.
Deputy Chief Constable proposes joint “armed surge capability”
Police Oracle reports that a senior officer has proposed that an “armed surge capability” formed of firearms officers from the British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary and MDP could be created to help protect the public in times of national emergency. The idea has been proposed by Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, who was attempting to address the issue of how the UK would respond to a ‘Paris-style’ incident that required a protracted nationwide manhunt. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, 80,000 armed personnel were deployed across France. In comparison, the UK has just 7,000 armed police to call upon, and many of these are tied to defending key military instillations and civilian infrastructure. Police Oracle understands that talks are taking place to make arrangements for military personnel to replace such armed officers guarding instillations, should it become necessary to release them for anti-terrorist duties. Defence Police Federation National Chairman Eamon Keating said that the decisions surrounding any such contingencies would ultimately lie with the government.
Large increase reported in post-traumatic stress disorder cases amongst veterans
The Daily Telegraph reports that a leading charity has warned that the number of veterans seeking help for PTSD and other mental health problems has jumped more than a quarter in the past year alone, with a surge of cases from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Combat Stress says it is now dealing with six new veterans asking for help each day and is at its busiest in its 96-year-history. The 26 per cent increase in the past year is more than double the rise seen the year before and is mainly due to a “marked rise” in Afghanistan and Iraq veterans coming forward. The latest rise follows a string of annual increases and the toll of cases from the wars of the past decade will continue to increase, the charity believes. It is calling on the Government to spend more on NHS treatment for them. Latest figures show 2,264 former soldiers, sailors and airmen contacted Britain’s main veterans’ mental health charity for help in the past twelve months. Three quarters of those being treated have post-traumatic stress disorder and many also battle alcoholism, drugs and depression.
Report calls for UK to pull out of European convention on human rights during wartime
The Guardian reports that according to a report by the Policy Exchange think tank, Britain should withdraw from the European convention on human rights during wartime because troops cannot fight under the yoke of “judicial imperialism”. Granting enemy combatants the right to sue the government and requiring soldiers on the battlefield to operate to the same standard as police officers patrolling the streets of London will make future overseas combat operations impossible, the organisation argues.
The study, Clearing the Fog of Law, written by two academic lawyers and a Conservative party candidate, marks the opening shot in the general election debate about the role of human rights. The Policy Exchange report says British forces during conflict should be subject only to the longer-established Geneva conventions that govern the conduct of war, and should be prepared to pay compensation to all military personnel killed or wounded during active operations – without the need to prove fault.
UK Ebola mission support ship to return home
The Portsmouth News reports that Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Argus is heading back to the UK, after deploying to Sierra Leone in September to provide air and medical support in the campaign against the Ebola virus. In recognition of her efforts and deployments spanning back to 1982, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has now awarded Argus an Admiralty Board Letter of Commendation. It is believed to be the first time this award has been granted to an operational unit. The last similar award was made in 1939, to the family of Captain Edward Kennedy, who was killed when his ship HMS Rawalpindi was sunk following action against the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
Companies selected to convert Ashchurch Army Camp into housing estate
The Gloucestershire Echo reports that two companies will work together to prepare the way for about 2,100 houses to be built on the Army Camp at Ashchurch. The MoD announced today that VINCI St. Modwen – a joint venture between VINCI PLC and St. Modwen Properties PLC – will be its development manager for the site, which is off the A46. The housing proposal has been included in the Joint Core Strategy, a future housing strategy for Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester that has yet to be finalised. The MoD did not say when the Army Camp would close or where the storage of military vehicles that it facilitates would be done in the future.
RAF stage large-scale air defence exercise
The Daily Express reports that the RAF has mounted its biggest air defence exercise over British skies in thirty years after a series of Russian nuclear bomber flights near UK skies. Operation Rising Panther is the first of six proposed air defence operations due to take place every year from now on. More than thirty aircraft, including twenty Typhoons and Tornado fighter jets, as well as a range of ED-3, AWACS, Sentinel and Shadow surveillance aircraft took part in the mock attack-and-defence war-games over the North east of England, as well as ground-based command teams.