This week’s UK defence news has been dominated by the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, and the potential for changes to the UK’s security posture. The Times reports that the deputy chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (and the national lead on armed policing), Simon Chesterton, has told the newspaper that an elite armed police unit should be created to guard critical sites and respond to Paris-style terrorist emergencies. The units would protect airports, power stations and landmarks whilst providing a “potent armed surge capability” in response to incidents. Mr Chesterman said short-term measures could be taken to increase the number of armed police. However, he said that a more strategic approach would be to bring armed officers from the civil nuclear force, Ministry of Defence police and British Transport Police together into a new unit.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reports that Home Secretary Theresa May has revealed the existence of a number of Fire Special Operations Teams (FSOTs) and Ambulance Intervention Teams (AIT), who it is intended will be able to operate in the midst of a Paris or Mumbai-style attack. They have been issued with ballistic vests and helmets, and are trained to deal with what Whitehall terms a “Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack”.
Finally, The Guardian reports that Prime Minister David Cameron has said that Britain’s intelligence agencies should have the legal power to break into the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists. However, experts have countered that the proposal would effectively necessitate a ban on encryption, which would itself be unenforceable.
NAO report on MoD equipment procurement raises concerns over personnel levels
The Financial Times reports that new figures from the National Audit Office (NAO) show that the rising costs of new military equipment programmes such as the replacement of Britain’s nuclear deterrent mean the MoD will be forced to make more significant cuts to troop numbers unless the next government agrees to keep real-term increases to the defence budget. Under the current deal with the Treasury, agreed in 2013, the Armed Forces will receive a one per cent annual real-term increase to their equipment budget from 2015, whilst funding for areas such as manpower and support costs stays flat in real terms. The MoD spent about 40 per cent of its budget on equipment under last year’s plans and would spend 44 per cent based on this year’s revisions, the NAO said in its official assessment of the MoD equipment plan. However, potential further cuts to MoD non-equipment funding could see this figure rise to 47 per cent or higher by 2019-20, the official watchdog said. At such levels, the MoD would have to make more reductions to its manpower budget.
MoD criticised for running nuclear convoy in poor weather
The Daily Record reports that anti-nuclear campaigners and politicians have criticised the MoD after reports that a convoy carrying nuclear weapons travelled through the centre of Glasgow despite weather warnings. The convoy drove through the middle of Glasgow on the M74 and M8 between 11.35pm and 11.55pm on Sunday night and crossed the Erskine Bridge during high winds. Whilst the Scottish CND maintains the convoys – which transport nuclear warheads between the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire to the UK’s fleet of nuclear-armed submarines at Faslane – are always unsafe, the campaigners condemned moving the weapons during extreme weather as reckless. The 20-vehicle convoy, including four high-sided heavy-duty weapons carriers, a fire engine, armoured personnel carriers and MoD Police guards, arrived at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on Loch Long at around 1:00am on Monday morning.
Letter from DPF chairman published in The Times
The Times has published a letter from DPF Chairman Eamon Keating in response to an editorial and news story in the newspaper concerning local councils that have made staff redundant and then re-hired them at a greater cost through temping agencies. The letter highlights that this is not a phenomenon unique to local councils, but is happening across government as a consequence of short-term savings being prioritised over long-term need. It concludes by saying that lessons must be learned from this failure to plan long-term in order to ensure that the problems encountered as a result of cuts to vital resources do not happen again.
The submission of this letter is part of the DPF’s ongoing strategy to demonstrate the importance of the MDP and the folly of further cuts to the workforce as part of a Strategic Defence and Security Review that is expected later in the year.
Military secrets to be sold on “dark web”
The Times reports that a “dark web” marketplace that trades in classified military intelligence, confidential corporate information and other sensitive secrets is being developed by cryptographers. The Slur market, which would be free to use, would enable individuals to anonymously buy and sell any type of secret in exchange for bitcoins, according to its developers, the u99 group. Under the slogan “you are going to hate it”, the group claims on its public website that the Slur platform “will bleed organisations’ secrets and funds” and have “a profound and lasting effect on our society”. The group suggests that governments, militaries, companies and other organisations would be forced to bid against their employees to keep sensitive information secret. “Organisations of every type . . . are in the unfortunate predicament of having both a great deal of liquid assets and a large number of secrets to protect, accessible by numerous disgruntled or psychopathic personnel,” the group says.
Call for RAF fighters to be equipped with collision avoidance system
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) has warned that the RAF’s Typhoon and F-35B aircraft must be urgently fitted with collision warning systems to prevent a catastrophic potential crash with an airliner. Air Marshal Richard Garwood, director general of the watchdog, said he was “convinced” Britain was carrying “unnecessary risk” by not having the equipment installed across its fast jet fleets. The board investigating near misses in the UK found there were fourteen incidents involving commercial and military traffic in 2013, including one where there was a genuine risk of collision. The RAF’s Tornado fleet, helicopters and large planes are already being fitted with warning systems, but there are no plans to fit them to the RAF’s Typhoons or the new F-35 stealth fighters that are currently being built.
Report blames map reading error for near miss between drone and helicopter
The Daily Telegraph reports that a Merlin helicopter and a metre-long Desert Hawk surveillance drone came within sixty feet of each other as the result of a map reading errors and a dispute over airspace. Joint Helicopter Command has been told to review its procedures as a result of the incident. However, there was no way of telling whose fault the incident was, experts from the UK Airprox Board, which investigates near misses in British airspace, concluded. The near miss happened above a replica Afghan village north of Thetford, Norfolk, which has been purpose built in the 30,000-acre Stanford training area. The Merlin crew claimed the near miss happened because the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the five personnel operating it were 300m outside their zone. But the drone's commander said it was in the process of landing at the correct pre-agreed spot when the Merlin suddenly appeared overhead.
Police told that minority recruits must be recruited on merit
The Times reports that the Home Secretary Theresa May has ruled out positive discrimination legislation to recruit more police officers from minority backgrounds. Senior police officers have called for a change in the law to increase the numbers of black and Asian officers and make big city forces more representative of the communities they police and better able to win their respect and confidence. The College of Policing says that although minority communities make up 14 per cent of the population, officers from that background represent only five per cent of the police service. However, the Home Secretary said that existing recruitment programmes, such as the Metropolitan Police’s requirement that new recruits be London residents, were already having an impact on police diversity. “I am clear that there is no need for positive discrimination to increase the numbers of black and minority ethnic officers in the police,” Mrs May said. However, one in four recruits would need to be from a minority if the service were to be representative of the population by 2024.
Armed Forces recruits questioned over sexuality
The Daily Telegraph reports that recruits to the armed forces will be asked whether they are gay in a move to improve diversity in the military. Details of the service personnel's sexual preference will be stored, but recruits have the option to “prefer not to say”. The measure has been introduced in a bid to foster greater tolerance within the Armed Forces, which only allowed gay soldiers to openly serve in 2000. The information will not be visible on individual personal records or to chain of command or managers, and will be anonymised before being collated to ensure no one can be identified by their personal diversity information.