A number of newspaperspapers this morning cover the Defence Secretary’s visit to Ireland to sign an agreement on defence that will see the armed forces of the 2 countries working more closely together. The Memorandum of Understanding will enable soldiers from both countries to co-operate on peacekeeping in conflict zones and could evolve to include procurement and joint training exercises.
Mr Fallon said: “I welcome today’s opportunity to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with Ireland. It very much reaffirms our resolve to build on and strengthen the existing strong links between the armed forces of Ireland and the UK. Looking to the future, this agreement will importantly help us both to improve our defence and security cooperation, including conflict prevention and crisis management.”
Deployment of troops to UK
The Times this morning speculates that the number of soldiers on standby in Britain to respond to a terrorist attack is set to increase. We have consistently been clear that there are no current plans to mobilise large numbers of UK troops following the events in France.
Mental health among service personnel
The Daily Telegraph reports on the release of figures about the mental health of service personnel.
An MOD spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing all our personnel with all the support they need. Our mental health services have been configured to meet the requirements of the armed forces and include 16 departments of community mental health across the UK with additional centres overseas.
“In addition, we are running campaigns such as ‘Don’t Bottle It Up’ to encourage more of our personnel to come forward. It is possible that any increases in personnel presenting are due to a combination of factors, including a reduction in stigma.”
This image of what appears to be a large mountain is actually an underwater scan of the seabed off the coast of Northern Africa. Captured by Royal Navy survey ship HMS Enterprise, the largest of the 2 seamounts scanned – the technical name for underwater mountains – was measured at 1,100 metres which is taller then Mount Snowden. While intriguing structures, the 2 seamounts pose very real dangers to shipping, and although they have been spotted previously, with HMS Enterprise’s specialist equipment they are now firmly on the map. Using a hydrographic multi-beam echo sounder to send out multiple beams simultaneously, the ship’s expert team can create this incredibly detailed result. [Picture: Crown copyright]
The front page of the Sun this morning carries an interview with Captain Hannah Winterbourne, the highest ranking transgender soldier in the British Army. In the piece Captain Winterbourne discusses her experience of realising she wished to have transgender surgery, the worries she went through and the support she received from her friends, family, and from the Army. All articles reflect that Hannah had been concerned about whether her decision to become a woman might end her career in the Army, but instead she discovered that the military is “very forward thinking”.
The Telegraph Online this weekend also carried an interview with Commander Douggie Ward, a serving officer in the Royal Navy who is also openly gay. In the piece he talks about coming out, and how attitudes have changed over the course of his naval career.
A piece in the People (on page 12) on Sunday claimed that UK Army Chief’s are under fire after falling 3,000 troops short of recruitment targets last year. The story says the MOD aimed to sign up 10,060 soldiers but figures show just 6,198 new troops and 607 officers were added. With thousands of new recruits joining the Army last year it is wrong to suggest the Army is suffering a crisis in recruitment. We are confident that the plans we have in place to recruit the right mix of regular and reserve personnel are robust and viable. We know we have set ourselves challenging recruitment targets, but Army 2020 plans are on track to deliver the Force we need to counter the wide range of threats we face, and retain the capability to bring to bear on the battlefield.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
The Times this morning claims that Britain will send up to 100 troops to Iraq in a “watered-down” plan to help to combat ISIL militants. The article refers to the training proposal initially set out by the Defence Secretary just before Christmas, suggesting this deployment of 100 troops is “far smaller”.
The Observer ran an article this weekend about the Trident Successor programme and concerns that billions of pounds is being spent on replacements before parliament has approved an upgrade. The Government’s position on the case for the deterrent is well-known: the nuclear deterrent is the ultimate guarantor of our nation’s security and no alternative would be as effective at deterring threats now or in the future. We can be very clear that the 5-year long Assessment Phase for the Successor submarine programme was approved by Parliament in May 2011. This phase is focused on progressing the design of the submarine and is expected to cost approximately ￡3.3 billion, concluding with a Main Gate decision in 2016. We can also be clear that no submarines are being built before then, and we expect the overall cost of the programme to remain within the initial 2006 White Paper estimate. The programme has been thoroughly reviewed by the MOD, Treasury and Cabinet Office officials to ensure that we are minimising early spend and that it represents value for money. However, as with any major programme of this complexity, it is vital to order certain items that would delay the programme if we were to wait until 2016. The cost of the Assessment Phase increased by £300 million because the Treasury agreed it was better value for money to bring forward some elements, including investment in facilities at Barrow in Furness and some long-lead items for the first Successor submarine.
Soldiers of 1(UK) Division are competing in their annual skiing competition at Les Contamines, France until 21 January. Exercise Pipedown includes both Nordic and Alpine events and will see the top performers progress to the Army skiing championships to be held later in the skiing calendar. In the picture, a competitor on the first day of the Alpine Giant Slalom. [Picture: Corporal Mark Webster, Crown Copyright]
The Army has today launched a new recruitment campaign for the reserves with recruitment events in London and Manchester. At the events, the virtual-reality Oculus Rift wraparound headset will be on show for potential recruits to try out. The kit, being used for the first time today, will immerse the wearer into a live fire exercise with the Army Reserve on Salisbury Plain. As a crewman in a Challenger 2 tank, the wearer will be surrounded by other tanks that are engaging enemy positions using laser sights, as well as communicating with other soldiers in armoured vehicles driving alongside them.
Major General Chris Tickell, director-general of the Army recruiting and training division, said: "By using the virtual headsets, people will be able to step straight into an exciting real-world scenario of volunteering with the Army Reserve and the huge variety of challenging roles there are to choose from. Introducing virtual reality technology is just one of the ways that the Army is transforming the way it recruits. We have also recently introduced a simplified, flexible, online web application form for mobile, tablet or desktop; a new 100% Army Fit app which helps new recruits build their fitness to the level of a soldier in training; and new mobile recruitment offices, enabling us to cover larger geographical areas and making it easier for potential recruits to find out more." Read more here.
Find out more on how to join the Army as a regular recruit, or a reservist, by visiting the Army website.
Royal Navy Engineers
The Times this morning writes that the Royal Navy is putting Canadian, New Zealand and even French sailors on warships because of a shortage of around 250 specialists including engineers. The article says that US Coast Guard personnel have also been approached to cover roles in order that ships can fulfill planned deployments.
We can be clear however that the Royal Navy is leading the way with an innovative package of measures designed to address the engineering manpower challenges in what is a highly competitive employment market. These initiatives are now taking shape and the Royal Navy continues to meet its operational commitments and offer exciting career opportunities.
The Times this morning carries a letter from Lord Astor which sets out the distinct intimidation and redundancy policies which the UK runs to cover the work of locally employed civilians during operations in Afghanistan. It confirms that hundreds of individuals are due to settle in the UK under the provisions of the redundancy policy, which also offered financial settlement and in-country packages.
A possible future recruit, tries the Army's new Oculus Rift technology - wrap-around virtual reality headsets - during an Army recruiting event at Waterloo Station, London. The event marks the launch of the Army's recruitment campaign which showcases some of the unique opportunities that reservists get involved in during their spare time. [Picture: Crown copyright. Sergeant Rupert Frere RLC]
The Daily Mail reports speculation that thousands of UK troops stationed overseas could be sent home to help police cope with a Paris copycat attack. The article says that Ministers are examining plans to have 'high-readiness' battalions stationed across the country to respond to a terror attack within minutes. The MOD’s position is reflected in the article: “There are no plans to redeploy troops from overseasto within the UK in support of domestic security measures. We are working closely with other Government Departments and agencies to ensure that we are able to provide appropriate military assistance in response to any security threats.”
Following yesterday’s coverage in the Times and other outlets there is further positive coverage in the Independent today that the British Army, Royal Navy and the RAF have been ranked among the top 100 gay-friendly employers only 15 years after it became legal to be openly homosexual in the forces.
There are various reports that the head of the RAF is concerned that Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes could collide with civilian airliners because of the absence of an airborne collision warning system. In a Military Aviation Authority (MAA) report says that Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford alerted Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to the danger of a mid-air collision involving a Typhoon, which is not fitted with the system. The article says the Tornado fleet is already being fitted with the system, whilst the possibility of the equipment being added to the Typhoon fleet also being explored.
There are various reports today saying that UK Defence chiefs are buying £228m super rockets to protect the Falklands as Argentina bolsters its air force. The piece adds that the MoD ordered a new missile defence system after reports the South American nation was leasing 12 Russian attack jets. The MoD’s position is carried in part in the article, setting out that we remain vigilant and committed to protecting the Falkland islanders, but that we cannot comment on specific operational details.