This week saw the House of Lords join the House of Commons in rising for the summer recess. The House of Lords will not now resume business until 13 October, some six weeks after the House of Commons, which – barring a recall – will return on 1 September.
As expected, the departure of Ministers and MPs from Westminster has led to a notable reduction in defence news. The most high-profile developments have primarily centred on the UK’s response to the continuing Russian support of rebel forces in in south-east Ukraine, as well as the wider threat new Russian aggression may pose to fellow NATO members. However, this week also saw an important but low-key developments in the Trident replacement programme.
This week, the Defence Select Committee released its report on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by the British military. In related news, the ten Reaper UCAVs procured for use by the RAF in Afghanistan were brought into the Ministry of Defence’s core equipment programme. The first major components of the second Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, were shipped to Rosyth Dockyard for final assembly. Finally, the Ministry of Defence announced the line-up for the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, which is due to end on 14 September.
· US and UK agree on update to the 1958 UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement
· Keeping Trident “will cost Scottish taxpayers £1bn over the next ten years”
· British Army deployment to Poland announced
· Defence Committee finds NATO unprepared for Russian attack
· Armed police officers threaten strike action over officer’s murder charge
· PTSD rises by a fifth in British military
US and UK agree on update to the 1958 UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement
The Guardian reports that a new agreement to extend the provisions of the 1958 UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) by ten years has been signed by British and US officials. The agreement is critical in that it allows the US and UK to work together to maintain their respective nuclear weapons stockpiles, including the UK’s Trident missile warheads.
In a message to the US Congress, President Obama declared that the agreement will: “permit the transfer between the United States and the United Kingdom of classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors.”
The UK, Obama added, “intends to continue to maintain viable nuclear forces into the foreseeable future.” It was therefore in America's interest, to continue to help Britain “in maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent”.
Keeping Trident “will cost Scottish taxpayers £1bn over the next ten years”
The Herald of Scotland has reported that Scottish taxpayers will have to contribute £1bn to maintain Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde over the next 10 years.
The former UK defence minister, Philip Hammond, told MPs that a total of £13bn had been earmarked over the next decade for, “maintaining the Trident strategic weapons system, including costs associated with the nuclear warhead”. That amounts to 18 per cent of the MoD's entire £72bn equipment support programme. According to the Scottish National Party (SNP), about £1bn of the £13bn is due to come from taxpayers in Scotland if they remain part of the UK.
Critics of the programme also point out that even these new figures may not include all the costs associated with maintaining Trident, like sailors' wages or investments in the nuclear warhead manufacturing facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire. They also don't include the estimated £100bn price tag for replacing the Trident system in the future.
British Army deployment to Poland announced
The Times reports that this October, the UK will be sending a battle group of 1,350 military personnel, equipped with more than 350 armoured and other vehicles, to Poland to take part in Exercise Black Eagle. It is understood that around 20 tanks will be included in the deployment. The move marks Britain’s largest commitment to the region since 2008, and although the deployment has been planned for some time, it is being framed as part of the response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and continued support for rebel forces in south-east Ukraine.
Typhoon jets are already taking part in a NATO air policing mission, protecting the skies over the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. A company of British troops also took part in a military exercise in Estonia in May. In addition, light infantry troops from 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, will take part in Exercise Sabre Junction, a US-led exercise involving 16 NATO and partner nations, which is also taking place in Poland.
Michael Fallon, the new defence secretary, hinted at a possible further expansion of NATO activity along its eastern flank, with NATO members due to meet in the coming weeks at a two-day summit to be hosted by David Cameron in Newport.
“We have a strong opportunity at the NATO summit to discuss how we will continue our response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine,” Mr Fallon said during a trip to Warsaw with Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary.
“The UK is playing a central role and we are not ruling out further enhancements.”
Defence Committee finds NATO unprepared for Russian attack
A report published by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee has found that after a decade of counterinsurgency operations and nearly a quarter of a century of defence cuts, NATO is ill-prepared to react quickly to a Russian attack on Eastern European member states. The findings were contained within the Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two – NATO report, and came in the wake of continued Russian support for the rebellion in south-east Ukraine. Amongst the recommendations offered by the committee are:
· Making dramatic improvements to the existing NATO rapid reaction force
· The pre-positioning of equipment in the Baltic States
· A continuous (if not technically ‘permanent’) presence of NATO troops in the Baltic states
· The re-establishment of large-scale military exercises including representatives from all NATO Member States
The report placed particular emphasis on the need for NATO to be able to fight ‘ambiguous warfare’, including the development of a new doctrine for dealing with cyber-attacks. Furthermore, the report recommend that, in opening the NATO Summit in Wales this month, the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary should make a commitment to the UK maintaining defence spending at or above 2 per cent of GDP.
Armed police officers threaten strike action over officer’s murder charge
The Times reports that firearms officers are threatening to down their weapons after a former policeman was charged with murdering a suspected gangster.
The ex-officer, who can be identified only as E7, was charged with murdering Azelle Rodney, 24, when police opened fire on a car he was travelling in to a suspected robbery in north London in April 2005. E7 is the first police marksman to be charged with murder in the course of his duties for more than a decade. Two officers have faced murder trials, in 1997 and 2001, and both were acquitted by juries.
Prosecutors charged E7 after a judge-led public inquiry concluded a year ago that the police had “no lawful justification” for shooting to kill Mr Rodney, described in an official report as a “mid-level career criminal”. The inquiry was told that officers had been briefed that they were intercepting an armed gang that was planning to rob Colombian drug dealers. Mr Rodney, who was wanted at the time in connection with a double stabbing, was hit six times as he sat in the back. Police recovered three firearms, two of them loaded, from the car. The inquiry judge said E7’s account that he thought he was about to be fired upon was “not to be accepted”.
PTSD rises by a fifth in British military
The Telegraph reports that post-traumatic stress disorder among military personnel rose by 19% last year as Britain prepared to end operations in Afghanistan. The number of service personnel diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder rose by nearly a fifth last year amid concern about the enduring psychological toll of the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. The Ministry of Defence’s latest figures show there was also a 12 per cent increase in the rate of mental disorders as a whole, including depression and anxiety.
Combat Stress said the substantial increase in PTSD cases was a “matter of concern” and came at the same time as an unprecedented surge in demand for military mental health treatment. The veterans’ mental health charity warned earlier this year it had seen a 57 per cent increase in former soldiers, sailors and airmen needing treatment after serving in Afghanistan. Referrals from those who had served in Iraq rose by a fifth, the charity said, even though combat operations ended in 2009.