This week’s UK defence news has been largely focused on the prospect of Britain taking an active combat role in fighting ISIS in Iraq. Downing Street has rejected claims that the UK is ready to join the US campaign, citing an absence of a request from Washington, a need for further domestic debate and a current focus on providing humanitarian support. However, with Australia signalling a willingness to join an expanded air campaign and The New York Times reporting wider efforts by the US to secure a coalition of allies to support both further action in Iraq and an extension of the campaign into Syria, the UK may soon decide to adopt a more aggressive posture.
In parallel to the debate over the UK’s role in fighting ISIS has been the argument over how to deal with British nationals who have fought in Syria. Few have gone as far as London mayor Boris Johnson, who has suggested that fighters returning from Syria should be presumed ‘guilty until proven innocent’. However, Home Secretary Theresa May has called for new legal powers for use against terrorist suspects.
In other news, it became increasingly clear this week that Russia is providing direct support to rebels in eastern Ukraine. The Royal Navy seized £21 million worth of cocaine after a 12-hour pursuit across the Caribbean. HMS Bulwark sailed as the flagship leading the Royal Navy’s annual Response Force Task Group deployment. The helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious was decommissioned. Finally, a senior UN official has called for a ban on autonomous battlefield robots capable of killing without human intervention.
Police Oracle reports concerns of DPF regarding military base security
Police Oracle has reported on the DPF’s concerns regarding the decision to withdraw MoD Police from RNAS Yeovilton. The report cited comments by DPF National Chairman Eamon Keating, who stated: “I'm sure that the establishment are confident that their security is robust – but clearly there will be differences in relation to the ability to take the layered approach to security that we were able to provide.” Mr Keating added: “There has been a reduction in the level of security at Yeovilton. It will be less secure than it was because you do not have the policing presence there.”
The MoD Police used to patrol the base in Somerset around the clock, but they were redeployed earlier this year to other bases, leaving it up to neighbourhood police teams from Avon and Somerset Constabulary to respond to reports of incidents at the site. Local police neighbourhood teams do not maintain any permanent police presence at RNAS Yeovilton, but MPGS personnel carry out patrols and ensure the perimeter of the site is secure.
The article in Police Oracle follows a meeting arranged between Eamon Keating and the correspondent responsible for reporting on defence issues. The purpose of the meeting was to ensure the publication remains aware of the issues facing the MoD Police and individual officers.
Lost and stolen MoD ammunition fired on streets of Merseyside
The Times reports that an internal army document seen by one of the newspaper’s reporters has revealed that 46 per cent of bullets discharged in the Merseyside area between April and October 2012 – 34 rounds out of a total of 76 rounds – were identified as being British military ammunition. However, police sources have reportedly told The Times that there was no longer a problem of military ammunition turning up on the streets in Merseyside.
Figures released by the MoD following a freedom of information request also showed that bullets and weapons are still going astray. A total of 18 firearms and 1,988 rounds of ammunition were reported lost or stolen last year.
The Defence Police Federation is in communication with the defence editor at The Times to ensure the newspaper remains aware of the role of the MoD Police and risks of further cuts, following previous articles it has published based on our engagement with its journalists.
Study identifies £1.5bn annual shortfall in 2015-2020 defence budget
The Financial Times reports that a private study conducted by an unnamed think tank, on behalf of the British military, has shown that a £1.5bn annual shortfall in defence funding will manifest between 2015 and 2020. Many defence spending decisions – such as the replacement of the current generation Trident nuclear weapons system and the commitment to operating a second aircraft carrier – have been postponed by the government until after the next election, leading to concerns over a budget shortfall. The report challenges the assertions made by former Defence Secretary Philip Hammond that the MoD’s budget had been balanced.
The MoD is likely to face two main problems in the next parliament, according to the independent analysis. The first is that its equipment programmes will continue to rise in cost, which the authors argue is a result of “defence inflation”. This is a phenomenon that means military costs rise above the normal rate of inflation, and therefore requires annual real-terms funding increases. The second is that, while the UK economy is growing more quickly than those of most other developed nations, it remains behind where the government estimated it would be when it drew up the last Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010, leading to a lack of overall fiscal flexibility. However, the research suggests that the problem is manageable if the government increases defence spending after the next election so it remains above NATO’s target of two per cent of gross domestic product.
Redevelopment and expansion of Faslane naval base to press ahead
The Scottish Daily Express reports that a £3bn plan to expand and redevelop the Faslane site at HMNB Clyde will go ahead regardless of the imminent Scottish independence referendum. It is intended that the facility will house seven new nuclear-powered Astute-class attack submarines, currently being built at a cost of £1bn each, as well as the four Trident-carrying Vanguard-class vessels and their planned replacements. The revelation has led to renewed speculation that if there is a ‘yes’ vote next month, the Ministry of Defence expects to strike a deal to keep the UK’s nuclear deterrent in Scotland – although it is difficult to see how this would be politically possible given the Scottish National Party’s opposition to Trident. Assuming Scotland votes ‘no’ to independence, Faslane will become the sole submarine base in the UK once the last of the HMNB Devonport-based Trafalgar-class submarines retires in 2022.
£300m redevelopment of submarine production facility begins
The Westmoreland Gazette reports that BAE Systems has begun to demolish buildings in Barrow as part of a £300m redevelopment programme that will transform the way it builds submarines. The demolition follows an announcement made in March by the UK’s then Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, in which he outlined the scope of the investment during an official visit to Barrow. The programme will support the delivery of a successor to the Vanguard-class submarines and will involve the construction of new, state-of-the-art facilities and the refurbishment of existing infrastructure.
Police corruption figures revealed
The Daily Mail reports that almost 100 police officers are suspended on suspicion of corruption every year. In the past five years, a total of 460 officers have faced investigation over allegations including selling information, hacking into police computers and interfering with criminal probes. As well as the 460 officers who have been suspended for alleged corruption in the UK since the start of 2009, 200 members of police staff were investigated on suspicion of corrupt practice in the same time period. The force with the most suspended officers, by far, was the Metropolitan Police, where 119 officers and 67 other employees have been relieved of their duties during a corruption probe in the past five years. It is not known how many of the 460 suspended officers were found to have acted corruptly, as most of the forces did not provide data on the outcome of their investigations. The Metropolitan Police said that 31 corrupt officers faced disciplinary action between 2009 and this year, while a further 22 resigned from the force.