Written Evidence to the UK HoC Defence Committee

Nice piece of evidence.

Read it here

LJS Blog

Read and review.

Thanks to the UK House of Commons Defence Select Committee for publishing it.

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My take on Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2015 Labour Conference

With all the “hope and change” arising from dear beard-man (oops!) I mean Jeremy’s Corbyn’s leadership, I thought I’ll do quick critical review of Maria Eaagle’s speech on defence to the 2015 Labour Party Conference. My comments are in brackets and bold.

Conference,

Politics is changing. Since we lost the General Election, we have increased our membership by 164,000. (Hopefully many are related to the British Armed Forces or Defence. Maybe not.)

Our new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is inspiring a new generation of members of our Party – people who had not thought politics was for them – but who now want to help us to change our society for the better.

I am honoured to have been asked by Jeremy to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and I was proud to accept the job because the defence of our Country and its people is the first duty of any Government. (Sure you are, given your “experience” in the subject matter.)

And it must be taken equally seriously by any Party that seeks to govern.

I want to take this – my first opportunity – to thank and congratulate our magnificent British servicemen and women for the work that they do.

All around the world. Keeping us safe. Putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

They do this despite the redundancies, the real terms cut to pay, pensions and allowances imposed on them by the Tories since 2010.

They are truly amongst our very finest and most dedicated public servants. (Blah, Blah, Blah, same old lines for years.)

And this Party will always acknowledge that and seek to look after them. After all, most recruits to the armed forces come from our Labour heartlands.(Really? So what did your party do to them from 2003 to 2010?)

I will use my new role as Chair of Labour Friends of the Forces, to help to strengthen and deepen the understanding between the Labour Party and our forces community. (As if your predecessors didn’t or failed to do.)

Just a day or two after my appointment, I had the opportunity to meet some of the 1000 servicemen and women who served in Sierra Leone tackling the Ebola epidemic.

At no small risk to themselves, they helped to defeat that scourge – a fantastic humanitarian achievement.

They also left behind six treatment centres and 4,000 trained local staff. (Actually, it is a combined effort of NHS, DFID and NGOs. Stop saying you did something by clapping for them.)

To help enable that nation to tackle and prevent any further outbreaks of contagious disease.

And the work that they did in West Africa helped keep us safe here at home also by ensuring the epidemic never reached our shores.

They have done a brilliant job.

I would also like to congratulate and thank all those service personnel on HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise.

To date, they have saved 5,577 desperate people fleeing persecution and war who would otherwise have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. (Under David Cameron’s/Michael Fallon’s orders, not yours.)

The Royal Navy continues to contribute, with our EU partners to this vital work and we support it fully.

Conference,

Since we last met, our combat troops have left Afghanistan.

454 of them have lost their lives since 2001.

We acknowledge their sacrifice.

The security they have helped to provide has brought social progress to that country.

There are now six million children safely able to attend school in Afghanistan, two million of them girls. They are the future of their country and the more of them who are in education, the better. (As with Operation Gritrock, this was not performed by the British Armed Forces alone.)

Conference,

Our Nation’s defence has never been more important than it is now in an increasingly interconnected, unpredictable and dangerous world.
Where threats, new and re-emerging, come at us thick and fast. (Is that why your leader campaigned to stop wars and get out of NATO?)

Five years ago who would have anticipated the barbarism of ISIL/Daesh? Or the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia? (Certainly not the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn.)

Certainly the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review did not.
It was a rushed, short sighted, Tory, Treasury-led cuts exercise giving us, amongst other things, a plan for aircraft carriers with no aircraft. (I wonder again, would Labour government have performed a better review???)

Our Country and our armed forces cannot afford a similarly poor effort from the Government in 2015.

Anticipating future threats is a difficult job though Conference. (Duh, so why aren’t you giving some ideas instead of swiping at the Tories?)
Who would have anticipated the millions of people fleeing conflict, drought and oppression in the Middle East – reminiscent of scenes we thought belonged to the history books? (Not you, not Jeremy Corbyn.)

It is the job of Government and those who aspire to govern, to ensure that Britain is ready and able to deal with any threat that arises and to be a force for good in the world.

And this fits in with our values as a Party. We believe in International cooperation, social justice and providing humanitarian assistance. (So why the campaign to aggressively remove the nuclear deterrent without spending on conventional weapons, why the hatred of the British Armed Forces, why the hatred of NATO?)

Britain is an outgoing nation fully engaged in the World.

We remain the only country to be a member of NATO, the EU, the UN Security Council, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth. (Great, you dear leader DID NOT like them at all!!!)

We have a unique opportunity and a great responsibility to use our position in the world to help solve problems, not turn our backs on them. (But, I read your fellow frontbencher Diane Abott doesn’t want intervention in Syria!)

We should not spurn that opportunity. We should not shirk that responsibility.

And we must ensure our people are safe here at home.
Our security services have warned that terrorist plotting against Britain is at its most intense for three decades – with six attempts foiled in the past 12 months

The collapse in stability and governance in the Middle East and North Africa has left a vacuum for extremists who seek to attack us at home and abroad.(But your party wants to let “refugees” in.)

The ongoing civil war and chaos in Syria has created space for ISIL/Daesh to unleash horrific atrocities on innocent people.

Britain cannot solve these problems alone. But Britain must not turn its back on the world. (So why did Jeremy Corbyn call to withdraw from NATO?)

This is the context for our deliberations about Britain’s role in the world and the defence capabilities we need, in conjunction with our allies and partners in playing that role.

For decades our policy has been that the UK should have responsive, high-tech armed forces with the capability to respond to emerging threats.

And it has been our position for decades too that Britain needs a credible independent nuclear deterrent while taking a lead internationally to push for a world without nuclear weapons. Labour in Government reduced the numbers of nuclear warheads and gave up our free fall nuclear bomb option – as part of multilateral disarmament efforts. (As Iceman said: Bullshit. Michael Foot didn’t. Jeremy Corbyn then and now did not.)

I know that some people have always disagreed that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent. (Right, many in your front bench.)

But we all agree that more must be done to rid the world of nuclear weapons. (Yes, how?)

I recognise and respect the different views in our party on the future of our nuclear deterrent.

Jeremy knew that I disagreed with him about this when he appointed me. And he still asked me to do the job. (Wonderful! Prepare to be kicked out of the role soon.)

At the last election, we were committed to having a much more transparent and public facing debate about our place in the world and how best we should fulfil it. (Really? So whose manifesto are you following? Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn?)

Jeremy Corbyn has asked me to facilitate such a debate. (Really?!)

And I will do that. (With Jeremy pulling string no doubt.)

In sharp contrast to the Government’s SDSR consultation, where responses were limited to 300 words, it will be a debate that all of our members will be able to take part in. (Madame, this has been removed. And again, so far, you HAVE NOT provided any counter ideas.)

It will involve our trades union affiliates as well, some of whom represent:

The 40,000 people who work in the defence industries in Scotland,

The 7,500 who work in our submarine manufacturing industry

The 850 companies in the supply chain for the planned Vanguard successor submarines – all offering highly skilled jobs and apprenticeships.

For they have a legitimate interest in our deliberations also.
And it will be a debate that must also involve the British people – for these issues are amongst the most important that any politician ever has to consider. (Ahem!!! The government is doing just that. You’re quite late in the race!)

There is an appetite out there, in our Party and beyond, for real issues of substance to be discussed openly in politics, rather than be decided just by Ministers in Government, behind closed doors or politicians in Parliament, subject to a Party whip.

We’re seeing it surface in other political parties as well as our own.
Our debate is starting at this Conference.

It is right that Britain’s place in the world should be at the centre of these deliberations.

And Conference, I will make sure that it is. (Sure. So far you have said NOTHING noteworthy or of substance. A speech that won’t pass as an academic essay.)

***
PS: I’m too critical but this is what the people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn get.

Another reason for maintaining UK defence and aid spending/targets

A Royal Air Force C-17 transport plane has departed for Vanuatu

or more specifically,

A Royal Air Force C-17 transport plane departed from RAF Brize Norton early on Monday 16 March and will travel to the Royal Australian Air Force base at Amberley in Australia, where it will join the international relief effort.

The plane is carrying 1,640 shelter kits for use by families of five people and more than 1900 solar lanterns with inbuilt mobile phone chargers. These supplies will help to provide protection to some of the most vulnerable people affected by the cyclone, especially women and children.

A humanitarian expert from the Department for International Development has also been deployed to advise on distribution of the supplies and assist with field assessments as part of the international relief effort.

The C-17 and its crew will remain in Australia for several days to undertake further support flights between Australia and affected areas as required(Own emphasis added).

I guessed it right that the UK would utilise Ministry of Defence (MOD), well specifically Royal Air Force (RAF), assets for the Department of International Development (DFID)’s efforts in Vanautu. With the C-17 staying in Australia, this shows that there needs to be a good amount of MOD funding to fuel and support the plane. Now, as in the past, DFID would reimburse the MOD for “its marginal operating costs for any assets used to support the UK Government’s humanitarian work” (as per Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines). Yet this C-17 mission (or any MOD mission) will incur cost from the RAF’s/MOD’s budget.

Therefore, it is vital for both the development assistance (I hate the term foreign aid) and the defence budget’s to be maintained at a reasonable level. If it is difficult to specify the level, then meet the 2% defence and 0.7% targets (which are symbolic and outdated but easy enough). It’s not a demand-side problem, it’s the supply.

The Royal Tank Regiment: Back in the CBRN game

NB: An edited version was published here: http://www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/defence-news/british-armys-cbrn-capability . I thank defenceviewpoints for publishing the article.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review mentioned a clear role for the/a Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) unit as part of the future high readiness force. Yet, on one of the lesser known impacts of this SDSR was that the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear Regiment (not the best link, do search the archive yourselves) would cease to be a joint unit. Instead, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment would transfer all CBRN authority/work/equipment to the Royal Air Force, specifically the RAF Regiment’s 27 Squadron. This was formally announced by the Royal Tank Regiment on 05 August 2011 and in the 2011 CBRN newsletter.

Personally, there is nothing wrong with shifting the CBRN role from a joint Army-RAF unit to just a RAF unit (27 Squadron is actually backed up by a RAF Reserve Regiment, 2623 (East Anglian). Together, they make up the “Defence CBRN Wing”, or 20 Wing RAF Regiment.) After all, 1 RTR was slated to merge with 2 RTR under the Army 2020 plan. It could be argued that this transfer out removed the key vehicle for CBRN, Fuchs, as seen in this House of Commons Written Question by MP Angus Robertson (Robertson loves to ask a heck load of defence-related questions as compared to front bench shadow ministers!) That would mean despite having the CBRN Wing, the CBRN capability might be reduced–one wonders which vehicles the wing used/uses now. However, Fuchs or no Fuchs, CBRN wasn’t exactly removed from the British Armed Forces, as so idiotic blogger suggested.

Fast forward to 2013/2014. The Royal Tank Regiment became the full RTR in August 2014. But before then, the Colonel-in-Chief issued this statement about the RTR’s structure:

We have therefore decided that, upon amalgamation, the three armoured squadrons in the Royal Tank Regiment will be known as AJAX, BADGER, and CYCLOPS. Command and Reconnaissance Squadron will be known as DREADNAUGHT, and Headquarters Squadron will be known as EGYPT. Should there be a future CBRN Area Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Squadron, it will be known as FALCON…Finally, I should take this opportunity to say something about the formation of the CBRN AS&R squadron. As I write this message, there is a strong possibility that the RTR will be invited to generate an additional squadron to meet this task, over and above our Type 56 Armoured Regiment role. But the Defence Board has not yet made a final decision, so the task may yet fail to materialise, or (less likely) could be given to some other unit to perform. I have been involved in a host of high levels discussions about this task, both as your Colonel Commandant and as a member of the Army Command Group. My position throughout has been that the Army and Defence need an AS&R capability, that the RTR has demonstrated the ability to provide it, and that we stand ready to do so again. My one proviso has been to say that it would not be sensible to double-hat this capability with that of an armoured sub-unit: it needs to be a squadron in its own right. Hopefully, we will know the outcome on this issue within the next few months.

(see the full news article.)

And then came another House of Commons Written Question, this time by MP Nicholas Soames. Minister Mark Francois replied with a hint:

Under the Army 2020 structure, the Royal Armoured Corps will be formed of 10 Regular Regiments made up of three Armoured Regiments, three Armoured Cavalry Regiments and three Light Cavalry Regiments with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment continuing to support public duties and ceremonial commitments; four Reserve Regiments and one independent Regular squadron providing a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Area, Survey and Reconnaissance capability.

(see the full parliamentary reply.)

And true enough to the above statements, the British Army news release (above) stated that the new RTR would consist of “three Main Battle Tank squadrons (AJAX, BADGER, CYCLOPS), a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Area Survey and Reconnaissance squadron (FALCON), a Command and Reconnaissance squadron (DREADNAUGHT) and a Support squadron (EGYPT).” So in effect, the CBRN role is back under the British Army’s control again.

Several questions still remain. First, will this squadron be joined back with the RAF CBRN Wing or remain separate? The news release states that the RTR will be under “part of 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade and 8 Engineer Brigade.” We know from the old Army 2020 orbat that the RTR will be under 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade. But the report stated “8 Engineer Brigade”, a Force Troops Command unit. Could FALCON squadron be under 8 Engineer Brigade, and which unit specifically? Second, what vehicle(s) will FALCON squadron use? A quick search reveals that actually the Fuchs vehicle is “back”, unlike what then Minister Peter Luff said. So could they be back on Fuchs? The Fuchs vehicle is ageing and will need a replacement. Perhaps a version of the SCOUT SV/PMRS? Third, and back to structures, how will FALCON squadron operate? Will it be part of the capacity building part of Army 2020? Will it remain under Land Command or come under Joint Forces Command? These questions still linger as we welcome the RTR back into the CBRN game.

Note: To correct the silly mainstream media reports, the British Army is NOT “reduced to a single tank regiment” (I dont want to hyperlink the media sites) Army 2020 plans (see my ORBAT or the British Army Orbat), states that there will be 3 Type 56 Challenger 2 Regiments–The Royal Tank Regiment (as above), the Queens Royal Hussars and the King’s Royal Hussars. These will be backed up by a single Yeomanry regiment (Army Reserve), the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. Understand this!