Last week saw a continuation of the UK’s campaign against the Islamic State, with additional air strikes being carried out by the RAF in Iraq. Reports have also emerged that a number of RAF Reaper drones could be redeployed for use in Iraq following their withdrawal at the end of operations in Afghanistan at the end of this year. However, the focus of the conflict with the Sunni extremist group this week has been in Syria, where Islamic State fighters are currently laying siege to the Kurdish controlled town of Kobane on the border with Turkey. Jens Stoltenberg, the newly appointed Secretary General of NATO, is traveling to Turkey to discuss the crisis. Despite having one of the largest and most powerful militaries in the world, the Turkish government has so far declined to intervene in the attack on Kobane.
In wider politics, this week has seen the Liberal Democrat conference take place in Glasgow. As expected, no meaningful mention was made of defence issues.
In other news, the submarine HMS Astute returned from its eight month long maiden deployment. British Army armour began deploying to Eastern Europe for Exercise Black Eagle. And in the latest in a series of embarrassments to hit the German military, a new report has been published that has critisised spending on nine of Germany's biggest defence projects.
Future UK defence spending levels examined
The Financial Times reports that despite the unscripted call by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon for UK defence spending to be sustained at two per cent at last week’s Conservative party conference, Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement of substantial tax cuts will make it virtually impossible to support existing levels of defence spending. With this in mind, the MoD is assuming that there are three likely funding scenarios.
The first is for the UK to hit its NATO defence spending target in the next parliament, as Mr Fallon called for. According to a recent analysis by the Royal United Services Institute, such a commitment would require an extra £25bn to be spent on defence, over and above current spending levels, in the next parliament. Senior military officers accept such a scenario to be “a pipe dream”.
The second scenario would be for the current settlement to be maintained and the MoD budget pegged to inflation, with an additional one per cent annual increase for equipment expenditure only.
It is this situation that senior armed forces officials told The Financial Times they hoped for. Indeed, all of the MoD’s current long-term equipment projects and military reforms are pegged to it.
After the prime minister’s conference speech, however, the final scenario – further cuts – is the most likely. Professor Malcolm Chalmers, research director at Royal United Services Institute, has suggested two ways cuts to the MoD budget could pan out: a constant cash-flat freeze in MoD spending for two years after the election, or, more seriously, flat cash for all five years of the next parliament.
UK military deployment to counter Ebola outbreak announced
The BBC reports that the MoD has taken the decision to deploy additional forces to Sierra Leone to support efforts to contain the outbreak of the Ebola virus that has affected the country and the surrounding region. Whilst 40 armed forces members are already in-country, the new deployment will see 700 personnel, the aviation training ship RFA Argus and three Merlin helicopters sent to assist aid efforts. This new package will support the country’s stretched public health services in containing the disease by providing the capacity to treat up to 8,800 patients over the next six months. Military personnel will deploy to Sierra Leone next week, where they will join military engineers and planners who have been in-country for almost a month, overseeing the construction of the medical facilities. More than 3,400 people have died during the current Ebola outbreak, nearly all of them in West Africa. In Sierra Leone, the death toll is at least 678.
Workers at MoD Donnington vote to strike
The BBC reports that members of the union Unite have voted to strike after rejecting a one per cent pay offer, deeming it “derisory”. Unite said about 800 of its members employed by the Defence Support Group (DSG) nationwide had “overwhelmingly” backed the walkout. It said 75 per cent voted for strike action – at a date yet to be confirmed – and 85 per cent for action short of a strike. MoD-owned DSG employs workers who repair and maintain the MoD's land and air equipment. The strike comes despite the fact that MoD Donnington is currently competing to become the Army's main logistics base.
Review of structure of counter-terrorism policing postponed
The BBC reports that a decision has been taken to postpone a planned restructuring of UK counter terrorism policing until after the next election as a result of an increase in the terror threat level. Whilst a move to transfer responsibility for dealing with terrorism from the Met Police to the National Crime Agency was recommended in a recent Home Office Select Committee report, the decision will come as a relief to senior police officers who were thought to be against the move. The UK's Counter-Terrorism Command currently sits within the Metropolitan Police, with the force working with both the security and intelligence agencies as well as regional police units.
New study suggest up to 75,000 personnel may have been harmed in Iraq and Afghanistan
The Daily Telegraph reports that a new study by service charity Help for Heroes has indicated that as many as 75,000 British service personnel may have been left wounded, sick or psychologically harmed following the UK’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the methodology it has used to estimate the number of former service personnel suffering from mental illness beyond those formally diagnosed is open to question: the charity has simply taken the number of individuals that have been medically discharged from armed forces since 2001 and used previous studies to extrapolate how many may be affected. In relation to physical injuries, MoD figures show that on top of 453 British deaths in Afghanistan, more than 7,300 were treated in field hospitals for battlefield injuries, non-combat wounds or disease. In Iraq, there were 173 deaths and 5,800 were treated in field hospitals.
Minister for Reserves appeal for help from London Employers
The London business paper City AM has carried an article by Julian Brazier, the Minister for Reserves. Highlighting the current plans to expand the Army Reserves to 30,000 trained personnel, Mr Brazier seeks to calm fears within some companies regarding the potential loss of key employees for extended periods if they are mobilised – arguing that it represents both corporate social responsibility and makes good business sense. He gives the example of BT, which employs over 200 reservists and provides up to two-thirds of the personnel employed in 81 Signal Squadron – a specialist reserve communications unit – claiming that BT benefits by getting personnel with cutting-edge skills who are used to working in diverse and challenging environments. Mr Brazier also highlights that up to £500 per month of support is available to smaller companies to compensate for the disruption of losing an employee.
US fighter aircraft crashes in Lincolnshire
The Daily Telegraph reports that a US Air Force F-15D based at RAF Lakenheath has crashed in Lincolnshire. Although a two-seater aircraft, only one pilot was aboard at the time, and he escaped serious injury. Pieces of wreckage came down as close as 400 yards from Weston Hills Church of England Primary School, with the main body of the jet crashing to an eight acre field where a crop of around 160 tons of potatoes was due to be harvested this weekend. The crash is the second this year for US military aircraft based in the region. Four US aircrew died when a helicopter from RAF Lakenheath crashed in Norfolk while on a training mission in January.