Richard Willis's Blog

First for local news and first for comment

UK Defence Spending Increases

mod2In last summer’s Budget the government committed to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation every year until 2021 and continue to meet NATO’s target to spend 2% of GDP on defence for the rest of the decade.

1 April 2016 marks the first day that these commitments come into effect with the core defence budget increasing by £800m from the 2015/16 baseline of £34.3bn to £35.1bn. In addition, the MOD will receive £2.1bn from the Joint Security Fund by the end of this Parliament. This means the Defence budget will increase by nearly £5bn to £39.7bn in 2020/21.

Welcoming the new budget, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

“Nothing is more important than defending our country and protecting our people. With increasing threats to our security, we have chosen to increase defence spending and give our Armed Forces what they need to keep Britain safe.”

The UK has the 2nd largest budget in NATO, the largest in the EU, and the fifth largest in the world. It is one of only five countries that meets the NATO guideline to spend 2% of GDP on Defence.

Over the next five years the MOD budget will increase as set out in the table:

Ministry of Defence
£ billion
Baseline Plans
2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
Resource DEL (1) 27.2 27.8 28.5 29.2 30.0 31.0
Capital DEL 7.1 7.3 7.5 7.8 8.1 8.7
Total DEL 34.3 35.1 36.0 37.0 38.1 39.7

(1) In this table, Resource DEL excludes depreciation

The increased budget will allow the MOD to invest in stronger defence with more ships, more planes, more troops at readiness, better equipment for Special Forces, and more for cyber.

The government will fully protect the size of the Armed Forces, not reduce the Army to below 82, 000, and increase the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force by 700 personnel. By 2025 we will have a highly capable expeditionary force of around 50,000 (up from around 30,000 planned in Future Force 2020).

Over the next decade MOD will spend over £178 billion on equipment and equipment support, £12 billion more than in plans prior to the 2015 SDSR. Our investments include:

  • Maintain the plan to buy 138 F35s over the life of the programme. *An extra £2bn on our Special Forces’ equipment.
  • 9 Boeing P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
  • Advanced High Altitude surveillance aircraft.
  • More than 20 Protector armed remotely piloted aircraft
  • Type 26 Global Combat Ships.
  • We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates
  • 2 new Offshore Patrol Vessels.
  • 3 new logistic ships.

The Armed Forces will also become more, efficient and effective which means we will:

  • Establish 2 additional Typhoon squadrons and an additional F35 squadron.
  • Have a full Army division (made up of three brigades) optimised for high-intensity combat operations
  • Create 2 new Strike Brigades *Double (from 1 to 2) the number of Brigades ready to deploy on operations.
  • Reducing the number of civilians in the MOD by almost 30% over the next five years.

From 2016/17 all savings from efficiencies and reprioritisation will be reinvested in the defence budget, enabling £9.2bn to be invested in new capability over the Spending Review period.

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

HMS Queen Elizabeth is Named

HMS Queen ElizabethThe Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier has been officially named by Her Majesty the Queen at a ceremony in Scotland today.

Hundreds of workers who have helped to build the HMS Queen Elizabeth, along with the ship’s company, joined the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary, military Chiefs and dignitaries to witness Her Majesty christen her namesake with a bottle of whisky. The ceremony, held at Rosyth dockyard near Edinburgh, marks the completion of the flagship which at 72,000 tonnes is the largest ship ever built for the Royal Navy:

  • With a height of 56 meters she is taller than Niagara falls;
  • At 280 meters long she has a flight deck the size of 60 tennis courts;
  • Four jumbo jets could fit alongside each other on the 70 meter wide deck;
  • Her range is 10,000 nautical miles and she carries enough fuel to transport a family car to the moon and back twelve times;
  • She is fitted with a long range 3D radar that is capable of tracking more than 1,000 targets at once or can spot a tennis ball travelling at 2,000 miles per hour.

Operating with Lightning II fifth generation stealth Joint Strike Fighter jets, the QE Class will be versatile enough to be used in a full range of military tasks from warfighting to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Today’s naming ceremony comes just a week before Lightning II is due to take to the skies in the UK for the first time, marking another step towards the return of carrier strike operations.

The construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth has sustained around 8,000 jobs at more than 100 companies across the UK. Blocks of the ship were manufactured at six yards in Devon, Rosyth, Portsmouth and on the Clyde and Tyne before being assembled in Rosyth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first warship to be christened by Her Majesty in 15 years. To honour the ship’s birthplace in Scotland, a bottle of Islay whisky from the first distillery the Queen visited was smashed against the bow.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said, “HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest ship that the Royal Navy has ever had and is a true demonstration of the UK at its best, with over 10,000 people across the country working together to deliver her. This occasion marks a major milestone in regenerating the UK’s aircraft carrier capability, enhancing our ability to project power anywhere in the world.”

Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord, said, “The naming of HMS Queen Elizabeth heralds a new dawn, not only for the Royal Navy but for the delivery of our Nation’s security. Her journey ahead will be global, strategic and one of inter-Service and international partnership. Powerful, versatile and credible, this ship will be at the heart of the UK’s defence capability for the next 50 years, but she already stands testament to the best of British shipbuilding, engineering and technology. We are especially proud to welcome Her Majesty The Queen to Rosyth, and are honoured that she has graciously accepted the role of sponsor for our Nation’s future flagship.”

Following today’s naming ceremony the dock will be flooded to enable HMS Queen Elizabeth to float for the first time. Work to prepare the ship for her sea trials in 2017 and flight trials with Lightning II aircraft in 2018 will continue.

Work is already underway on the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship HMS Prince of Wales which will start to be assembled in Rosyth dockyard later this year. The Defence review next year will decide whether Prince of Wales is to enter service or be mothballed or even sold. In my view the Government would be simply mad not to bring both carriers into service and provide the necessary funding to the Defence budget to make this affordable.

Now that the economy is growing robustly it is time to begin to increase the Defence budget back up to a level closer to 2.5% of GDP with an aim of 3% of GDP. That would allow the Navy a few more escorts which will be necessary to escort the carriers and fulfil all the other RN commitments around the world.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Graphic

July 4, 2014 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

A Depleted Royal Navy Leads to the Loss of Jobs and Shipbuilding at Portsmouth

mod2Today BAe Systems (British Aerospace) announced that it is to shed around 1,800 jobs from its shipbuilding arm and cease all shipbuilding at Portsmouth. This decision brings to an end almost 500 years of shipbuilding at Portsmouth. Instead BAe has decided to retain a shipbuilding capability on the Clyde in Glasgow in what it stated was purely a commercial decision. The company has stated that the loss of jobs was inevitable with the impending completion of construction of the two huge aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy and the gap before construction of the new Type 26 frigates is scheduled to begin. It cannot have helped that the MOD previously decided to build its two new replenishment ships in South Korea.

Since the 1990’s successive governments have taken an axe to the Royal Navy and this government is no exception. From a world class fleet of over 100 major warships, including 60 frigates and destroyers, in the 1980’s we are now left with under 40 major warships with just 19 frigates and destroyers. This depleted order of battle is not enough to keep the shipyards busy building for the Royal Navy. In the absence of significant overseas orders the closure and job losses announced today were inevitable.

Today the MOD announced an order for construction on the Clyde of three new Offshore Patrol Vessels to replace the three River Class vessels from 2017. In addition more than £100m is to be invested in the Portsmouth Naval Base to expand the dockyard to be capable of handing the two new 70,000 aircraft carriers which will be based there alongside the 6 Type 45 Destroyers. This is welcome but a small compensation for the loss of the orders which would have come from a larger fleet.

Until the British people wake up to the constant risks that the government is taking with our Armed Services and demand an increased Defence budget British military capability will continue to diminish alongside our influence as an ally.

November 6, 2013 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

Royal Navy’s Newest Attack Submarines Achieve Major Milestones

HMS_AgamemnonThe UK’s submarine capability has taken a significant step forward this week with work beginning on the assembly of Agamemnon, the Royal Navy’s sixth Astute Class submarine. The keel, which is the first part of the boat to be built, was unveiled at a ceremony at BAE Systems’ shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness by Defence Minister Philip Dunne.

It comes as the MoD announces that the first two of the seven Astute Class submarines, HMS Astute and HMS Ambush, are nearing completion of their extensive sea trials and have been handed over to the Royal Navy to begin to prepare for operations.

The seven Astute Class submarines are being built for the Royal Navy to replace the Trafalgar Class submarines. The Astute Class has greater firepower, state of the art communications equipment and advanced stealth technology making them quieter than their predecessors and harder to detect.

HMS Astute and HMS Ambush are the first submarines in Class accepted by Navy Command, which is responsible for operating all of the Royal Navy’s vessels. The next three submarines in the Class: Artful, Audacious and Anson are all at varying stages of build and today’s keel laying for Agamemnon marks the next key milestone for the programme.

BAE Systems Maritime Submarines (BAES (MS)) is responsible for delivering all seven Astute Class submarines and for the design of the successor to the Vanguard class, which will carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The MoD has agreed a new contract with BAES (MS) that will not only help to sustain the thousands of highly skilled defence jobs based at Barrow-in-Furness but drive down the costs of building future submarines.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Philip Dunne today signed a new contract which will deliver £380M of savings over the next eight years. This will ensure that the Royal Navy’s submarine capability is delivered efficiently and provides good value for money for the taxpayer.

Rear Admiral Simon Lister, the MoD’s Director of Submarines, said: “This is the sixth submarine in the Astute Class and we expect her to be built more quickly and efficiently than her predecessors, demonstrating the effectiveness of the national submarine building capability in Barrow-in-Furness.  New techniques by skilled staff in the back office and on the shop floor will deliver this key capability for the Royal Navy.”

The keel-laying for an Astute Class submarine involves the unveiling of a keel section in the BAE Systems’ shipyard where the submarines are being built.  The Agamemnon Astute boat is the seventh Royal Navy vessel to take the name – after the ancient Greek King who commanded the Greek troops in the Trojan War. The first was a 64-gun ship commissioned in 1793 by her new commanding officer, one Horatio Nelson – a captain at the time. It is said that Agamemnon was his favourite ship and she served in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

hms-astute

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

“Union J” Supports Armed Forces Day and the Royal British Legion

AFD Union J - Jun 13Last week I enjoyed taking some time out of my usual daily work to facilitate some filming for the Royal British Legion with the X-Factor finalists Union J. They are four lads who were put together as a foursome from the original group “Triple J” (Josh Cuthbert, Jaymi Hensley, and JJ Hamblett) and soloist George Shelley. They immediately gelled and made it through to the live finals of X-Factor.

The Legion had obtained their agreement to film a short clip to promote their summer campaign of Poppy Picnics and I was approached to host them at RAF Northolt and arrange for some RAF families to be part of the film clip. While they were on the base I also arranged for them to pose with the Armed Forces Day flag in front of our Hurricane gate guardian (left). I don’t usually get into photos myself but it was short notice and we needed some people in RAF uniform!

Armed Forces Day this year is on Saturday 29 June. In Reading we will be having a fun time in the Forbury Gardens between 1200 noon and 5pm. If you live in the area do come down and enjoy a great afternoon out supporting our forces.

Later in the year I expect to be helping the Royal British Legion launch their national poppy appeal campaign. I won’t reveal any details now but it sounds like a really amazing event they are planning.

Below is the video clip we filmed (partly at RAF Northolt) last Friday:

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

Royal Navy’s Newest Destroyer Joins the Fleet

HMS DefenderHMS Defender, a Type 45 Destroyer, has taken a step closer to deploying on operations with the Royal Navy today as the warship has formally joined the UK’s fleet. The 8,000-tonne ship has been commissioned at a ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Base, which will be home to all six of the Royal Navy’s Type 45 class ships. The event marks HMS Defender’s transition into front-line service which means she can now prepare for her first overseas deployment.

HMS Defender is the fifth Type 45 to be commissioned into the Royal Navy. The ships, which were built by BAE Systems in Portsmouth and in Scotland, are the most capable destroyers the UK has ever had. Made using 2,800 tonnes of steel, the Type 45s are longer than 16 double decker buses and weigh more than the Blackpool Tower. With fuel tanks half the size of an Olympic swimming pool, the ships are capable of supplying enough electricity to power a town of 80,000 people.

HMS Defender’s Commanding Officer Phillip Nash said: “The commissioning of HMS Defender marks the point at which building and testing the ship finishes and frontline service in the fleet begins. For the 190 men and women that make up my ship’s company, commissioning represents the culmination of months and years of hard work of training, trials and practice focussed on ensuring that HMS Defender is ready to undertake operations around the world.”

HMS Defender crestThe commissioning of HMS Defender is one of three significant events this week for the Type 45 class. On Tuesday, HMS Dragon, which is the fourth in class, sailed from Portsmouth Naval Base for her maiden, seven-month deployment to the Middle East. On Friday, the sixth and final Type 45, HMS Duncan, is due to arrive in Portsmouth for the first time to begin her sea trials. HMS Daring, Dauntless and Diamond have already completed operational tours to the Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Type 45s feature the Sea Viper air defence missile system, which can tackle multiple targets at once and accelerate to twice the speed of Concorde in under ten seconds. The destroyers will be able to deploy with the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is due to be completed next year and will also be based in Portsmouth.

• A Type 45 can carry up to 700 people in support of civilian evacuation.

• 40 tonnes of paint covering 100,000 square meters of steel has been applied.

• She has her own hospital facilities complete with operating table.

• Her electrical cable could circle the M25 three times.

These are superb ships and a great addition to the Royal Navy but from an original class of 12 defence cuts have meant that just six are to be delivered. Even the most fantastic ship can only be in one place at one time!

March 21, 2013 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

MOD Sets Out Funded Ten Year Equipment Plan

mod2The Ministry of Defence has today (Thursday) published details of how it will equip the Royal Navy, Army and RAF over the next ten years and how this will be funded. For the first time, the Government has set out a fully-funded Defence Equipment Plan totalling almost £160Bn.

Within the equipment and equipment support budget of around £160Bn over the next ten years, Philip Hammond has introduced for the first time a contingency of £4.8Bn to manage cost variation and protect existing projects.

In addition, within the £160Bn, £8Bn is currently unallocated. This will be allocated as new equipment priorities emerge over the decade and only once the MoDis confident that they are affordable and therefore deliverable. Priorities will be decided by the Armed Forces Committee, chaired by the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Structuring the Defence Equipment Plan and the budget that supports it in this way will enable the MoDto deliver Future Force 2020.

The affordability of this plan has been scrutinised by the National Audit Office (NAO) and their independent analysis is also published today.

The NAO makes clear that the MoD has:

  • “substantially revised the way it compiles and manages the Equipment Plan and is now approaching the task on a more prudent basis”;
  • “taken difficult decisions to address what was estimated to be a £74Bn gap between its forecast funding and costs”;    
  • “taken significant positive steps designed to deal with the accumulated affordability gap and lay the foundations for stability going forward”;

And concludes that if it continues along this path:

  • “the Department will be able to demonstrate it has really turned a corner.”

The publication of the Equipment Plan follows the Defence Secretary’s announcement last year that the Defence budget has been balanced for the first time in more than a decade and that the MoD is taking a new approach to financial planning. The Plan includes the following major investments in state of the art military capabilities and their support over the next ten years:

  • £35.8Bn on submarines and the deterrent, including a total of seven Astute Class attack submarines and developing a replacement for Vanguard Class ballistic missile submarines;
  • £18.5Bn on combat air, including Lightning II and Typhoon fast jets and UAVs;
  • £17.4Bn on ships, including Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, six new Type 45 destroyers and the development of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship;
  • £13.9Bn on aircraft for air-to-air refuelling, passenger and heavy lift, such as Voyager and A400M;
  • £12.3Bn on armoured fighting vehicles, including Warrior, Scout and other land equipment;
  • £12.1Bn on helicopters, including Chinook, Apache, Puma and Wildcat; and 
  • £11.4Bn on weapons, for example, missiles, torpedoes and precision guided bombs.

The Defence Equipment Plan gives the Defence industry more information than ever before about the MoD’s priorities to enable them to invest in the capabilities the military will require.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:

“It is essential that our forces are fully equipped to respond to the range of threats we face in this uncertain world. This £160Bn Equipment Plan will ensure the UK’s Armed Forces remain among the most capable and best equipped in the world, providing the military with the confidence that the equipment they need is fully funded. For the first time in a generation the Armed Forces will have a sustainable equipment plan.

“Step by step, we are clearing up years of mismanagement under the last Government by ending the culture of over-promising and under-delivering that created a multi billion pound black hole in the Defence budget. Today’s NAO report confirms that we were right to take the difficult decisions to cut unaffordable expenditure and balance the books.” 

Whilst this improved management of the Defence budget is welcome after years of Labour mismanagement, it is still too small to maintain properly resourced armed forces to undertake the many roles expected of them by the Government. If the UK is to continue to punch above its weight on the world stage, strong and flexible armed forces are required. In recent years they have suffered cut after cut, with the share of GDP spent on defence falling to post-WW2 lows. This Government should pledge real terms increases in Defence spending after the next election with a short term aim of hitting 2.5% of GDP and rising to 3% in the longer term.

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Defence | 1 Comment

Armed Forces Reserves to be Boosted by 2020

Measures to overhaul Britain’s Reserve Forces, to create fully integrated Armed Forces, were unveiled today as part of a wide-ranging consultation published by Defence Secretary Rt Hon Philip Hammond.

The consultation, ‘Future Reserves 2020: Delivering the Nation’s Security Together’, proposes more training for Reservists, a ‘kitemark’-type award for supportive employers, and a proposal to change the ‘Territorial Army’s’ name to reflect its enhanced role.

Under the proposals there will be a new relationship between Reservists, Employers and the Government; a more transparent approach with employers given greater certainty about the timing of possible mobilisations and more notice when they occur. The measures will create a fully integrated force of Regulars and Reservists, using similar equipment, and training together. It will mean that the Reserves will not only produce individual augmentees to support Regular Units, but also deploy as formed units and sub-units.

The number of trained Reserves will grow to around 35,000 across all three Services by 2020, aligning the mix of Regular and Reserve components with many of Britain’s closest allies. The Army will see the biggest change with 30,000 trained Reserves, creating a total land force of about 120,000. The MOD plans to grow the total strength of the Reserves to around 44,450 across all three Services by 2020. There are currently 29,291 Reserves across all three Services. With 25,430 in the Territorial Army, 2,526 in the Maritime Reserve and 1,335 in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

The plans are backed by an extra £1.8 billion in funding over the next ten years for new equipment, uniforms and training for the Reserves. This is already having an effect:

· 12 of the 26 Army Reserves overseas training exercises planned for 2012 and 2013 have already been conducted, in locations including Macedonia, Italy and Cyprus;

· 22 of these exercises are new and a result of the new Future Reserves 2020 Funding. The Royal Navy and Royal Auxiliary Air Force have continued to provide overseas training opportunities;

· overseas exercises are expected to double next year; and

· new uniforms in line with what their Regular counterparts wear, are being delivered to Reserve units.

The consultation will also look at:

· increasing the number of days Army Reservists are required to train – from 35 to 40 days a year;

· a change of name from ‘Territorial Army’ to ‘Army Reserve’ – better reflecting the future role and tasks; and

· encouraging more ex-Regulars to become Reservists– making it easier for them to transfer to the Reserves and developing incentives for them to do so.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “This transformation of the Reserves will see a radical shift in the way in which we use them, with units deployed as formed units or sub-units as well as delivering individual augmentees. Increased training, better equipment and extra investment in our Reserves are all integral to our vision of formidable, adaptable and flexible Armed Forces, with a Reserve/Regular balance more in line with our main allies. This Government has committed £1.8 billion to rebuilding our Reserves. The consultation I have launched today is about working with Reservists, their families and employers to use that money to design the Reserve forces of the future.”

When the announcement was made in the House of Commons Reading East MP Rob Wilson suggested that the MOD consider the establishment of a Gurkha Reservist Unit within the new Army Reserve. Mr Wilson argued that this would preserve the proud history and character of the Gurkhas and would bring their tradition of loyalty, courage and skill to the benefit of the Army Reserve.

In response, the Defence Secretary said that Mr Wilson’s proposal raised an “excellent question” and promised to look into what could be done to bring about the establishment of a Gurkha Reservist Unit.

Rob Wilson said: “The Gurkhas have a distinct character and a proud history of brave service for which this country should be enormously grateful. A specific reservist unit would enable the Territorial Army to continue to benefit from the Gurkha traditions of loyalty, courage and skill among ex-Gurkha soldiers and others of Nepalese heritage willing to serve. I am following this up with a letter to Philip Hammond today to move this proposal forward.”

The MOD’s consultation will run until 18 January 2013. Following this consultation the MOD will publish a White Paper in Spring 2013 setting out this new relationship.

The Future Reserves 2020 consultation is available on the Ministry of Defence website here.

This is a welcome boost to our Reserve Forces (of which I am one) but it will only have the desired effect if the Regular Forces are properly resourced and manned. I very much hope that Chancellor George Osborne will find the resources to provide some additional cash for the MOD in the public spending round next month.

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

Battle of Britain Day – The Debt we Owe to the Poles

Today is recognised as Battle of Britain day; the day when, in the autumn of 1940 Britain’s Royal Air Force was stretched to its limit. Churchill was visiting the Number 11 Group bunker that day and described seeing “all the lights glowing red” on the tote boards. That meant that ALL the Squadrons of 11 Group were engaged in action over the skies of southern England trying to stop the German bombers and their fighter escorts getting through.

However, today I want to reflect on the contribution of another nation in particular. I get very annoyed when the Government and the Ministry of Defence put out press releases referring to the UK and Commonwealth air crews in World War Two. Yes of course they were the majority and were critically important to our success in Fighter and Bomber Commands, but there were significant numbers of non-Commonwealth airmen in the Royal Air Force. By far the largest contingent were the Poles although they were accompanied by Czechs, Belgians, French, Americans and others.

The Poles were experienced pilots who, whilst masssively outnumbered, put up a firm resistance against the Luftwaffe in their outdated (and also training) aircraft. The story of hopeless Polish land forces charging Panzers with cavalry was a myth perpetrated in the early stages of WW2 but in the air there was some truth in the story. What really did for Poland though was the subsequent Soviet invasion from the east while they were battling to fight against the advancing Germans. Many Polish pilots escaped through Romania and reached France to join the fight against the Germans. How many people remember that, unlike France, Poland never surrendered? When the Polish pilots reached France they wanted to get into action against the Luftwaffe but were frustrated by the complacent attitude and sometimes downright hostility they experienced. Very few managed to see any real action before France was invaded and surrendered, leaving the Poles to find ways to reach the UK to carry on the fight.

Those Poles who were captured by the Soviet invaders suffered greatly. Many were deported to Siberia, from where some managed to escape on foot via Iran. One veteran told me he and his brother got a boat from Iran to Argentina and then to Liverpool in order to carry on the fight for their homeland! When they arrived in the UK many found similar suspicion to that experienced in France, although the RAF was much better prepared than the French air force and more willing to get them flying. However, the RAF hierarchy insisted on British officers being in charge and the Poles had to learn English and RAF ways of doing things. They were issued with RAF uniforms but were allowed to keep their own identity with Polish cap badges and shoulder flashes.

Most of the Polish fighter pilots were sent to RAF Northolt in west London where they were formed into new Hurricane squadrons. However, they were not put into action immediately, instead flying endless training sorties, albeit with live ammunition. On 30 August 1940 while up on a training sortie a young Pole called Ludwik Paszkiewicz spotted a German Me11o. Ignoring orders he broke off from his squadron and shot the Me110 down. The next day his squadron, 303 (Polish) Squadron was declared operational. Later renamed 303 (Kosciuszko) Squadron it went on to be the top scoring RAF squadron in the Battle of Britain.

The bravery of the Poles frequently bordered on recklessness. They had lost their country, many had lost their families, and in their own words, many were out for vengeance. Whereas the British pilots zeroed their cannons to 400 yards, the Poles usually zeroed theirs to just 100 yards. In the air and at high speeds that is extremely close! By contrast the British tended to be gentleman fliers who had enjoyed leisurely weekends at flying clubs before the war. That does not detract from their bravery or success but it did lead to tensions between the Brits and the Poles at times. The Station Commander of RAF Northolt throughout the Battle of Britain was Group Captain Stanley Vincent, he was sceptical about the claims of the Poles to have shot down so many German aircraft, so one day he took his own Hurricane and followed them up on a raid. He saw that when they encountered the German fighters much of what they had been taught went out the window and they were knocking them out of the sky left right and centre. In his biography Vincent notes that in his diary he wrote “By God they ARE doing it!”. He became a firm advocate for the Polish pilots (as did other RAF officers who worked with them) and in due course they were allowed to have Polish flight and later squadron commanders.

The Polish fighter squadrons were a key part of the defence of London and England. Much of their time was spent initially at RAF Northolt and they later fought their way across France and into Germany with allied forces. At the end of the war the British government planned a massive victory parade through London but in order to avoid upsetting Stalin and the Soviets, the Poles were denied permission to march by the Labour Government of Clement Attlee. The RAF protested and the government relented but then on the day of the parade the Government changed its mind again and the Poles were prevented from taking part. This betrayal still rankles with many Polish veterans.

After the war many Polish airmen settled in the UK and married British women rather than return to their homeland which was now occupied by Soviet troops and forced into adopting Communism. I am privileged to count some of them as my friends.

Today the relationship with the Polish Air Force and the veteran community is strong. There is an annual commemoration at the Polish War Memorial (off the A40 in west London) every year, which I help to organise. For the last two years we have invited Polish Air Force Officer cadets from their academy at Deblin to attend the ceremony and this has been much appreciated by the UK-based veterans. We also have a permanent exhibition of the WW2 Polish Air Force at RAF Northolt which can be viewed by appointment.

It is my opinion that without the Poles (and other nations) in the Battle of Britain, we would have lost.

So on this historic day remember “The Few” who fought so valiantly and succcessfully but do not forget that without the Poles and other nations they would have been much fewer!

September 15, 2012 Posted by | Defence, National | 6 Comments

Future Frigates are Unveiled by the MOD

The latest design of the Royal Navy’s next generation of warships has been unveiled today by the MoD. Images show the basic specification of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship (T26 GCS), a significant milestone in the development of this programme, which will sustain thousands of jobs in the shipbuilding industry.

The multi-mission warship, which is due to come into service after 2020, will be used by the Royal Navy in combat and counter piracy operations and to support humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world. Since 2010, the MoD has been working with BAE Systems to determine the ship’s basic capabilities and baseline design. Now that has been endorsed, the programme can progress to the next part of the assessment phase, which will examine the detailed specifications of the vessel.

With a displacement of around 5,400 tonnes the T26 GCS will be around 148m in length (the equivalent of around 15 double decker buses), and one of the most advanced vessels in the Royal Navy’s fleet. It will also be very large for a frigate. It is bigger than the earlier Type 42 class of Destroyer and much larger than all previous classes of Frigate.

It is expected to feature:

  • vertical missile silos capable of housing a range of different weapons;
  • a Medium Calibre gun;
  • a hangar to accommodate a Merlin or Wildcat Helicopter and a Flexible Mission Space for Unmanned Air, Surface and Underwater Vehicles, or additional boats; and
  • the most advanced sensors available to the fleet.

The T26 GCS is one of several projects, including the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, which will see UK shipbuilding provide world class equipment for the Royal Navy. The assessment phase for the T26 GCS is expected to be completed around the middle of this decade when the main investment decision will be made. At this point the budget will be confirmed and orders placed. The MOD’s current planning assumption is for the construction of 13 vessels to replace the existing Type 23 class. However, the number of ships to be built will not be confirmed until after the main investment decision.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said: “The Type 26 Global Combat Ship will be the backbone of the Royal Navy for decades to come. It is designed to be adaptable and easily upgraded, reacting to threats as they change. I am delighted the programme has been endorsed by the investment approvals committee. The build of these vessels will secure thousands of skilled jobs across the UK, helping to sustain an industrial surface warship capability.”

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, First Sea Lord, said: “TheT26 GCS will be a multi-mission warship designed for joint and multinational operations across the full spectrum of warfare, including complex combat operations, maritime security operations such as counter piracy, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world. It will be capable of operating independently for significant periods or as part of a task group and will play a major role in the defence of this country for many years.”

There is no doubt that this is an impressive looking piece of kit but it seems that the MOD and the Royal Navy are once again going for expensive quality over quantity. Ships can only be in one place at a time and the key to this class will be the number that can be afforded. With the Navy down to a mere 19 escorts now it is operating with no marginal capacity. There is a strong case to be made for a class of smaller utility frigates or corvettes which would be cheap to build and maintain. They would also have much greater export potential which would add to the jobs dividend. I fear that the Type 26 will be very expensive and very few in number. The promised jobs bonanza would therefore turn out to be a dream.

It should be remembered that the excellent Type 45 Destroyer was meant to be a class of 12 ships. This was cut to 8 and then just 6 – half the original number. There is no sign of any export orders as they are so sophisticated and expensive that only developed nations could afford them and these are the nations which have their own shipbuilding programme. A cheaper general purpose frigate class could have significant export potential to developing and smaller nations, as was the case with the Leander class frigate.

I would be amazed if as many as 13 Type 26 class ship are ordered. My guess would be that in a shrinking fleet we would do well to end up with 8!

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

Defence Secretary Unveils New Wildcat Helicopter

The Defence Secretary has today unveiled the first of a new fleet of Wildcat helicopters and confirmed a £250M contract to support them. The first of 62 Wildcat helicopters have been handed over to the MoD by manufacturer AgustaWestland at the Farnborough International Air Show. The Somerset-based firm is benefiting from the £250M support and training contract that is sustaining 500 jobs. The Wildcat is a greatly upgraded version of the tried and tested Lynx helicopter and used to be known as “Future Lynx”.

The MoD is buying 34 Army Wildcats and 28 Maritime Attack variants which will replace the Lynx fleet operated by the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm. The first to be handed over to the MoD are Army helicopters, which will come into service in 2014. The first Royal Navy Wildcats are due to be delivered for training later this year before coming into service in 2015.

The Army Wildcat will primarily be used in a reconnaissance role, providing protection to soldiers on the ground. The Maritime Attack version will protect the Navy’s fleet around the world.

Both variants have more powerful engines than the Lynx, enabling Wildcat to be used on operations all year round in extreme conditions. The Wildcat also has a more robust fuselage to give better protection to the crews. Both variants are armed with a General Purpose and Heavy Machine Gun and the Navy’s helicopters will also carry Sting Ray Torpedoes. Army and Navy pilots will use high-tech interactive displays thanks to state of the art glass cockpits.

The £250m Wildcat in-service support and training contract with AgustaWestland will provide a specialist training centre at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, where the Wildcats will be based, that will include flight simulators and a wide range of other equipment to train pilots, ground crew and engineers.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Wildcat represents a considerable advance over the current Lynx helicopters, bringing greatly improved performance and capability. The contract to provide training and support will keep them flying wherever they are needed.

“These helicopters will be a key part of the future equipment programme for the Armed Forces that will see £160 billion spent over the next ten years. By balancing the budget, we can deliver the airframes and the millions of pounds of support they require.”

Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall said: “This is an excellent helicopter, which is very important to the Army Air Corps. We will be seeking to get it fully operational as soon as possible.”

Chief of the Naval Staff, First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope said: “Wildcat represents the latest generation of multi role helicopter that has been specifically procured to operate from ships of the Royal Navy. With state of the art sensors, equipment and weapons, it will be an outstanding asset that will maintain Royal Naval units at the cutting edge of worldwide maritime operations.”

July 11, 2012 Posted by | Defence | 1 Comment

HMS Diamond Deploys to the Gulf

HMS Diamond, which played a starring role in Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations earlier this month, sails from Portsmouth on Wednesday (June 13) for her maiden operational deployment to the Middle East. The Type 45 destroyer, which launched the Diamond Jubilee weekend with a spectacular ceremonial entry into Portsmouth on June 1, will spend six months carrying out maritime security patrols in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and the Gulf, replacing her sister ship HMS Daring. The ship will be acting as part of the Navy’s standing commitment in the Middle East, providing a range of capabilities from counter piracy to reassurance of the UK’s allies in the region.

Diamond’s build-up to the deployment has been extensive, having been thoroughly trained and assessed for every eventuality by the Navy’s naval training organisation, Flag Officer Sea Training. Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said: “The deployment of HMS Diamond this week marks another watershed for the Type 45 programme, with three of these highly capable destroyers now on operations worldwide. I wish her success in her Middle East deployment where the security of the international shipping lanes continues to be of the utmost importance. The Royal Navy continues to make a significant contribution to protecting the freedom of the seas and Britain’s interests across the globe.”

HMS Diamond was launched in 2007 and commissioned into the fleet in 2011. She is the third of the Navy’s six Type 45 air defence destroyers. Four have been commissioned and the remaining two will enter service over the next two years. The Type 45 Destroyer is the largest and most powerful Destroyer ever built for the Royal Navy. It provides UK Defence with a world class military capability. All six vessels have been launched and four are now based at their home port – Portsmouth Naval Base. 

The prime role of the Type 45 Destroyer is Air Defence – protecting UK national and allied/coalition forces against enemy aircraft and missiles. The Type 45 is fitted with the UK variant of the world-leading Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS), including the UK designed Sampson multi-function radar. This system, named Sea Viper by the Royal Navy, has set new standards in Air Defence, capable of defending the Type 45 and ships in its company against multiple attacks from even the most sophisticated anti-ship missiles and aircraft.     

The Type 45 is not only a world class Anti-Air Warfare Destroyer – it is also a multi-role, general-purpose platform, able to contribute effectively to a range of world-wide maritime, joint and Coalition operations. The build programme has protected thousands of jobs in the UK maritime sector.  It has led directly to a substantial increase in investment in the skills and capabilities that the Defence Industrial Strategy identified as crucial to the UK’s ability to continue to deliver sovereign capability to the armed forces.

June 12, 2012 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

Diamond Jubilee Flypast – 5 June

The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows will be saluting Her Majesty The Queen on the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee at 1530 on Tuesday 5 June. The formation will be flying down the Mall as the Royal Family watch from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

The Flypast will include the Dakota flanked by two King Air aircraft, a Lancaster, Spitfires and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, ahead of the Red Arrows who will make their entrance seconds later.

Officer in Command of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Squadron Leader Ian Smith said: “The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are honoured to be leading the Flypast for Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. As a Service the RAF is enormously proud of its heritage, and the opportunity to fly over Buckingham Palace for Her Majesty with the nation’s aviation heritage is something that will remain with us for the rest of our lives”.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (originally named simply the Historic Aircraft Flight) was founded in 1957  to commemorate the personnel of the Royal Air Force who served their country in conflict particularly during World War Two.

Since their formation in July 1957, BBMF have completed thousands of displays and tens of thousands of fly-pasts; proud to represent the nation’s aviation heritage. They are a large Flight within the Royal Air Force and are extremely proud of not only their history, but their continued engagement in operations abroad. The Royal Air Force continues to police the skies above our country, much like the fighters of the Flight did some 70 years ago. BBMF are a “museum without walls” and a “living and breathing tribute” to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Records show that for many years after its formation the Flight conducted relatively low-key operations; typically making 50-60 appearances per season, a situation that continued into the mid-1960s. By the early 1990s this had trebled and demand for participation by the Flight’s aircraft was continuing to grow. In 1996 individual aircraft appearances exceeded 500 and by 2003 tasking for over 700 individual aircraft appearances during each year’s display season had become the norm. The demand for appearances by the Flight’s aircraft shows no sign of decline and indeed seems to increase every year. The Flight’s aircraft now appear in front of an estimated total audience of 7 million people annually and have a fleet of 12 airworthy aircraft.

King Airs are the multi-engine training aircraft of the Royal Air Force, flown by 45 (Reserve) Squadron which is part of Number 3 Flying Training School based at RAF Cranwell. Once pilots have successfully completed multi-engine pilot training on 45 (R) Squadron they are awarded their coveted pilot’s wings, and then undertake conversion to their frontline multi-engine aircraft type at an Operational Conversion Unit.

The Beech King Air B200 is a twin-engine fixed wing aircraft, which first entered RAF service in 2004. It is used as an advanced, multi-engine pilot trainer by No 45(R) Squadron, which is part of No 3 Flying Training School based at RAF Cranwell, in Lincolnshire. The King Air course is split into basic and advanced phases. In the basic phase, students learn essential multi-engine techniques such as general handling, asymmetric flying, emergency handling and radio-aids navigation, and consolidate the multi-crew skills acquired on previous courses. In the advanced phase, the emphasis shifts towards developing captaincy, crew resource management, and managing the King Air’s advanced avionics systems. Students learn advanced skills such as formation flying, low-level flying and airways navigation, and are expected to plan and manage missions involving several aircraft.

Leading the nine Red Arrows following the Memorial Flight and closing the ceremonies will be Squadron Leader Jim Turner in Red 1. He said: “We are all extremely proud to be part of this auspicious event and to be a part of aircraft from the Royal Air Force at this tri-service celebration. We would like to offer our congratulations to Her Majesty on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee”.

The Hawk T1 has been used by the Red Arrows since 1979, replacing the Folland Gnat. The Hawk’s Rolls Royce Adour engine produces 5,200lbs of thrust and can power the aircraft to a top speed of Mach 1.2. The aircraft has a maximum altitude of 48,000 ft and fuel capacity gives a range of 1,000 nm, making most of the world accessible apart from New Zealand. The aircraft are essentially the same as those flown by Advanced Flying Training students at Royal Air Force Valley, with the exception of smoke generation modifications and a slightly updated engine which gives a faster response time. The smoke generation system pumps diesel mixed with appropriately colored dye into the jet exhaust to produce the colorful vapour trails that the Red Arrows are famous for. These trails are used mainly for flight safety reasons so the pilots can judge wind speed and direction whilst performing their displays. However, the effects of the trails also look good, enhancing the show for the audience on the ground.

Each aircraft can carry enough diesel and dye to create five minutes of white smoke, one minute of red and one minute of blue during the display. All nine Red Arrows display pilots are fast jet pilots from frontline Royal Air Force squadrons and once they have finished their three-year tour with the Team they will return to their Royal Air Force duties.

May 31, 2012 Posted by | Defence, National | , , | 1 Comment

The MOD Balances Its Books

The MoD’s budget deficit has been wiped out for the first time in a generation, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced. Through a series of tough but necessary decisions combined with radical reforms of the MoD’s financial processes, the £38 billion blackhole in the defence budget that the Government inherited in 2010 has now been eliminated.

It means that for the first time, the MoD’s core equipment programme is fully funded and affordable. A fully costed programme provides the Armed Forces with the stability and assurance they need for the future. The MoD can now confidently invest in new equipment, knowing its delivery is guaranteed because the programme is accurately costed and affordable.

The core committed equipment programme amounts to just under £152 bn over ten years, against a totalled planned spend of almost £160 bn. That £152 bn includes, for the first time, a centrally held contingency of over £4 bn. The programme also includes an additional £8 bn of funding over the next ten years which is unallocated. This means that the budget will have guaranteed headroom to respond to emerging equipment requirements.

The Service Chiefs have confirmed that this fully committed core equipment programme and the extra headroom will enable the MoD to deliver the capabilities required for Future Force 2020, as set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2010.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The Government is determined to get to grips with a legacy of poor project management, weak decision making and financial indiscipline within the MoD. We have made a symbolic break with the failed practices of the past and the vast black-hole that blighted Defence spending has gone.

“For the first time in decades, we have delivered a credible and sustainable budget and we can now confidently pledge to deliver to our Armed Forces almost £160 billion worth of equipment over the next decade that we know we can afford. This allows us to begin to put the uncertainty of the last few years behind us and build for the future on a solid foundation as we move forward with Defence Transformation.”

Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, said: “Taking tough decisions and dealing with unaffordable projects has given us clarity to plan. We are now on a firm foundation and building the Armed Forces of the future. We are now well-placed to adapt and respond to threats around the world and to deliver the capabilities we need for the nation’s defence. Going forward, the Armed Forces Committee, which I chair, will prioritise future commitments and bringing into service the equipment we are now getting.”

The announcement means the MoD can now guarantee the delivery of projects for the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force including:

  • 14 new Chinooks, Apache life-extension & Puma upgrade;
  • a programme of new armoured fighting vehicles worth around £4.5 bn over ten years, and a £1 bn upgrade of the Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle;
  • the building of the two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers; the remainder of the Type 45 destroyers and the new Type 26 frigates; the Astute class and Successor nuclear submarines;
  • investment in new Wildcat helicopters, the Merlin upgrade programme and the assessment phase for Merlin marinisation;
  • introduction into service of the Voyager Air-to-Air refueller & troop transporter, the A400M air transporter and the Air Seeker surveillance aircraft;
  • an additional C17 aircraft;
  • continued investment in Typhoon and JSF;
  • £7 bn invested in complex weapons – the smart missiles and torpedos that give our Navy, Army and Air Force their fighting edge.

Balancing the programme means the MoD can now confirm the following projects will also be part of the core equipment programme:

  • a £4 bn plus investment in Intelligence, Surveillance, Communications and Reconnaissance assets across the CIPHER, SOLOMON, CROWSNEST, DCNS, and FALCON projects;
  • the outright purchase of 3 Offshore Patrol Vessels which are currently leased;
  • capability enhancements to the Typhoon;
  • a range of simulators, basing, and support equipment for the new helicopters and aircraft we are introducing.

The scrutiny and financial controls that have been put in place will allow the MoD to ensure projects deliver against time and cost. As they do so, it will be able to release the funds which have put in place to add any uncommitted capabilities to the Committed Core Equipment Programme. Reaching a balanced budget represents an important milestone in the transformation of Defence which builds upon the recommendations of Lord Levene’s review of the department.

In further news, the MoD is to sustain its commitment to the nuclear deterrent by continuing to invest £1 billion a year on facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). The AWE is central to the development and maintenance of the UK’s nuclear capability, Trident. Scientists at the Berkshire site are involved from the initial concept and design of the warheads, through manufacture and support to their decommissioning and disposal.

The MoD has now reached an agreement with AWE Management Limited (AWEML) – the joint venture contracted to manage and operate the site in 2000 – for a further priced period of work under its existing 25-year contract. This agreement, which will see the MoD invest £1 billion a year over the next five years, provides important further investment in skills and facilities at the company’s site in Aldermaston and Burghfield, Berkshire, where more than 4,500 staff are based.

Around 40 per cent of this money will be invested in essential capital projects, including production and research facilities. The remainder will be spent on operating and maintaining the AWE. Defence Equipment and Support Minister, Peter Luff, said: “The Atomic Weapons Establishment is a centre of scientific and technological excellence, with some of the most advanced research, design and production facilities in the world. This investment announced today will help maintain 4,500 jobs and a key capability, which is essential for our national security.”

The investment will enable AWE to perform its vital work in support of the UK’s nuclear deterrent until March 2018, when another priced period of work will be agreed.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | Defence | 2 Comments

RAF Bomb Contract Secures Hundreds of British Jobs

A £60M deal for extra RAF precision weapons will help sustain hundreds of UK jobs, the MoD has announced. Paveway IV is among the most advanced precision bombs in the world and considered the backbone of the RAF’s bombing capability.

The contract has been awarded to Raytheon UK and will sustain some 450 jobs in advanced weapons manufacturing at its plants in Glenrothes, Scotland and Harlow, Essex.  The Glenrothes, Scotland,  plant will be responsible for the Guidance Control Section of the weapon and will also undertake the final integration of the complete Guidance Unit.  Thales Missile Electronics at Basingstoke are the other major UK sub-system supplier responsible for the design and manufacture of the Multi-event Hard Target Fuse. Further work will be sustained at Portsmouth Aviation Ltd, ITT/EDO/MBM Technologies Ltd in Brighton and RSL’s plant at Harlow.

Paveway IV proved highly effective during the 2011 air campaign over Libya and is also currently used in Afghanistan on Tornado jets. It is fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and laser guidance systems which mean that the precision delivery of the capability is unaffected by clouds or smoke screens, giving the UK the capability to conduct 24-hour attacks against a wide range of targets. The weapon has a UK-developed fail-safe fuse mechanism which means that the bomb will only detonate once it has reached its intended target.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said: “The Paveway IV bomb has been proven in combat in Afghanistan, where it continues to equip RAF Tornados, and in operations in support of the UN over Libya. It is a highly sophisticated weapon and this contract will both boost the MOD’s weapon stocks and support the employment of hundreds of skilled staff at plants across the UK who are working on this project. By stabilising the defence budget, more and more we are able to commit to equipment projects which help to safeguard our national security.”

Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Baz North, said:  “Paveway munitions have long been a success story for the Royal Air Force in terms of their precision bombing capability. The ability to operate in any weather means that we are able to support operations 24/7; Paveway IV weapons are a real asset to not only the Royal Air Force, but to Defence as a whole.”

Paveway IV was first introduced to operations in Afghanistan in 2008 and plans are in hand to fit it to the RAF’s Typhoon combat aircraft in 2013.

April 4, 2012 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment