BBC News and the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme have reported today that under-achieving civil servants could be sacked under new Government proposals to reform the Civil Service. | The Independent reports that Prime Minister David Cameron has attacked Argentina's claim on the Falklands at the G20 Summit. | The same newspaper claims that the Army will effectively be split in two under Army 2020, with a greater focus on undercover special operations, intelligence, surveillance and cyber warfare. | The Daily Express reports that Britain's 74-strong Harrier fleet lies 'abandoned' in the US desert after they were sold to the US Marine Corps.
UK drone attacks in Afghanistan
The Guardian reports that the British military is increasingly relying on drone attacks, firing more than 280 Hellfire missiles at insurgents. Human Rights Watch claims the system for civilian complaints is 'nonsense' as it relies on Afghans making official complaints to bases if people they know are wrongly killed.
Any incident involving civilian casualties is a matter of deep regret and we take every possible measure to avoid such incidents. The sole incident of this type occurred on 25 March 2011 when a UK Reaper, operating in support of ISAF forces, was tasked to engage and destroy two pickup trucks.
The strike resulted in the deaths of two insurgents and the destruction of a significant quantity of explosives being carried on the trucks. Sadly, four Afghan civilians were also killed and a further two Afghan civilians were injured.
Every effort, including in some circumstances deciding not to release weapons, is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage, including civilian casualties, is minimised. For reasons of operational security we are not prepared to comment on the assessed numbers of insurgents killed/wounded in Reaper strikes.
There is a system in place for handling claims for compensation brought against the MOD by Afghan civilians for whatever reason and we have an Area Claims Officer (ACO) located in Lashkar Gah. ACOs rotate throughout Helmand province and make visits further afield to ensure that all claims receive attention. We ensure that Afghan locals are aware of the claims scheme available to them through announcements on local radio and leaflets distributed by Military Stabilisation Support Teams, who collate the details of claims for those that cannot access an ACO. Provincial and District Governors are also aware of the compensation process.
As at 31 May 2012, UK Reaper aircraft had flown more than 34,750 hours on operations, the majority of which were in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role. Reaper aircrew have also deployed 281 weapons in response to requests for support from commanders on the ground.
Reaper is not an autonomous system and the aircraft do not have the capability to deploy weapons unless commanded to do so by the flight crew. The rules of engagement used for Reaper weapon releases are strictly defined and no different to those used for manned combat aircraft, with all weapons being precision-guided.
Armed Forces pensions
Various newspapers have reported that Armed Forces personnel may have to serve for 23 years before they are able to collect their pensions.
All public sector workers are facing changes to their pensions and the military are not immune from these changes. The MOD has conducted an extensive consultation process, with pensions staff visiting troops stationed across the world, including in Afghanistan, Germany and the Falkland Islands, to deliver a presentation about the possible changes and to seek their views. That presentation is not confidential and is available on the MOD website.
The changes are likely to include an adjustment to the amount of service required to become eligible for an Early Departure Payment. The earliest this can be drawn by anyone joining the Armed Forces today is at age 40 and the MOD is considering whether this could be extended to 45. No final decisions have been made.
However, the Government has protected the accrued rights of those on existing Armed Forces pension schemes and there will be no change to the age at which those currently serving can expect to draw those accrued rights. The Armed Forces also benefit from a non-contributory scheme unlike most other government employees.
Some of the coverage also reports that soldiers have been made redundant days before they qualified for a full pension. We have been clear that the length of service was not a consideration in the selection of individuals for redundancy and we have worked hard to ensure that those selected for redundancy receive the best possible pension and compensation packages. This includes reducing how long soldiers would have to serve before they qualify for an immediate pension - from 22 years to 18 years for those selected for redundancy. This means many individuals will receive an immediate income for which they otherwise wouldn't have qualified.