With Parliament now in summer recess and few if any formal capability related announcements expected before the Autumn – including who will be the next Secretary of State for Defence – following an interesting call that I received yesterday requesting what issues I am currently following closely, I thought that I would answer this by using some of the many questions put to the Secretary of State for Defence in Parliament and answered by he himself in written or spoken answers in the House of Commons or by his senior ministers. All but two of what follows came in MOD answers delivered by Minsters. There are of course many other issues being watched including defence budget momentum if one could call it that!
The above and no doubt, many other issues will be closely observed by me over the next couple of months. The point is that I will not allow any of them to be ignored. As ever, I am grateful to CMS Strategic who, in their ‘Daily Report’ provide details of Parliamentary Defence Questions and Answers.
Military morale at five-year low over poor pay and housing (The Times)
Morale in the armed forces has dropped to a five-year low with half of those serving dissatisfied with their pay and widespread frustration at substandard housing, according to Ministry of Defence figures.
Servicemen and women are facing a real-terms cut to their incomes after they were awarded a below-inflation pay rise of 3.75 per cent this year. By comparison, civil servants — who, unlike soldiers, are able to go on strike — have been offered a 4.5 per cent pay rise for 2023-24.
An annual survey by the MoD shows that just three in ten members of the armed forces agree their pay is fair. Five in ten are dissatisfied with their earnings.
The decrepit state of service accommodation has also led to widespread loss of confidence in the MoD’s ability to manage military properties.
The figures show that just one in five in the armed forces are satisfied with how quickly requests for maintenance and repairs to properties are carried out. The same proportion say they are happy with the quality of the work.
Satisfaction in the RAF is at its lowest on record with just 37 per cent happy in their jobs, while confidence in senior leaders has halved in just two years and is now at a record low.
Armed Forces: Recruitment – To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what steps he is taking to reduce discrimination in recruitment within the armed services. Answer from Andrew Murrison, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families (Ministry of Defence):
“The UK Armed Forces are a meritocracy. They will continue to ensure fair treatment of candidates for entry and career progression regardless of race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, gender, sexual orientation or social background and will always aim to attract the best people from the widest talent pool to help create the most effective operational force, recognising that the organisation is strongest when it is made up of people with a broad range of skills, perspectives and backgrounds.
When concerns are expressed that the Services are potentially falling short of their own high standards, action is taken to investigate and, where appropriate, rectify. For example, in September 2022, the Royal Air Force (RAF) initiated an independent Non-Statutory Inquiry (NSI) into RAF recruitment and the circumstances that had led to the resignation of the then Group Captain Recruiting and Selection. The NSI has now concluded and was published on 29 June 2023. The RAF have accepted all 12 recommendations; these either have been, or are in the process of being, implemented in full. A statement from the Chief of the Air Staff, which includes a link to the NSI, can be found at the following address:
RAF pays out after order to avoid hiring ‘useless white male pilots’ (The Times)
The RAF will pay compensation to 31 men whose training was delayed because of an internal diversity drive after staff were told to stop arranging courses for “useless white male pilots”.
To improve diversity, recruitment officers wanted to suspend selection boards until more women and ethnic minority candidates could be found, emails leaked to the Daily Telegraph show.
In an email from January 19, 2021, Squadron Leader Andrew Harwin wrote to a colleague to discuss the make-up of the boards, which place recruits on training courses.
Harwin, who worked in the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre, said: “I noted that the boards have recently been predominantly white male heavy. If we don’t have enough BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] and female to board then we need to make the decision to pause boarding and seek more BAME and female from the RAF. “I don’t really need to see loads of useless white male pilots, let’s get as focused as possible, I am more than happy to reduce boarding if needed to have a balanced BAME/female/male board.”
Group Captain Elizabeth Nicholl received instructions that she believed were unlawful to prioritise women and ethnic minority candidates. In total, she identified 160 cases of positive discrimination.
Appearing before MPs this year, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said that he regretted her departure but insisted that no one had been discriminated against during his tenure.
Armed Forces – Recruitment: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how much his Department has spent on taking steps to improve ethnic diversity as part of (a) Army, (b) Royal Navy and (c) Royal Air Force recruitment programmes since 2019. Answer from Andrew Murrison, Minister for Defence Peoples, Veterans and Service Families (Ministry of Defence):
“Defence is a modern and inclusive employer with people at its core. It offers supportive policies that enable everyone, irrespective of background, to have a rewarding and varied career.
The Armed Forces are committed to attracting, retaining and developing the best talent from the broadest diversity of skills and background, to reflect the society we serve. This includes undertaking a wide range of activities to increase the number of ethnic minority recruits into the Armed Forces, through better understanding and greater engagement with ethnic minority communities, reviewing recruitment processes and better targeted marketing and communications towards potential ethnic minority applicants.
The Army does not spend money on specifically targeting ethnic minorities within their recruitment programmes, but they are considering it for future programmes to ensure they meet their levels of ambition for diverse recruitment.
At present, Army recruitment programmes concentrate on mass attraction and utilise diverse
representation aimed at appealing to all potential joiners, including ethnic minorities.
It is not possible to attribute a cost to Royal Navy spend on campaigns aimed at diversifying their recruitment as Royal Navy recruitment is inclusive by design and does not specifically target diversity.
Royal Air Force (RAF) recruitment routinely extends an element of its marketing budget to reach targeted audiences within ethnic minority communities across all media platforms, such as community TV, radio, print, social media etc.”
Chinook helicopters: Procurement: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether his Department plans to take delivery of 14 new Chinook H-47 extended range helicopters.
Answer from James Cartlidge, Minister for Defence Procurement (Ministry of Defence):
“The Department remains committed to procuring 14 new Chinook H-47 (Extended Range) airframes through the Chinook Capability Sustainment Programme. The delivery schedule is currently subject to review to ensure Defence requirements are best met. It would be inappropriate to comment on or pre-empt the outcome of this review, which will be presented in a Review Note to the Investment Approvals Committee in late 2023.
These new airframes will replace the most obsolescent aircraft at the earliest possible opportunity, as the HC5, HC6 and HC6a Chinook variants move toward their shared out of service date in 2040. There are no HC4 variants remaining in the current Chinook fleet.”
Skynet: Procurement – To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what is the planned initial operating capability date for the next generation of Skynet communications satellites. Answer from James Cartlidge, Minister for Defence Procurement (Ministry of Defence):
“The contracted date for initial operating capability of SKYNET 6A is January 2026, which is defined as having seven of the ultra-high frequency channels available for operational use by Ministry of Defence and allied personnel.
Competitions to procure subsequent geostationary satellites are underway, with the most likely initial operating capability dates being 2028 for the first satellite, 2030 for the second, 2032 for the third and 2036 for the fourth.”
Military Aircraft: Helicopters – To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many airframes his Department plans to procure through the New Medium Helicopter programme. Answer from James Cartlidge, Minister for Defence Procurement (Ministry of Defence):
“There has been no change to the advertised requirement of up to 44 platforms in the New Medium Helicopter Contract Notice that was published in May 2022. Candidate suppliers have been evaluated to determine a short-list, and those who are short-listed will be invited to participate in the second half of the competition which will be launched later this year.”
Global Combat Air Programme: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what steps his Department is taking to support the Global Combat Air Programme between the UK, Japan and Italy. Answer from James Cartlidge, Minister for Defence Procurement (Ministry of Defence):
“The UK has a £10 billion budget to support the programme over the next ten years. We have invested £1 billion in R&D to develop the skills and technologies required, with a further £1 billion planned. This has been supported by an further significant investment from our core UK industry partners (BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK). Together, we are delivering advanced industrial technologies including digital design and additive manufacturing facilities, as at BAE Systems’ Factory of the Future in Lancashire, and recruiting people from across the country with specialist skills in areas such as software engineering.”
Army – To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the military strength was of the Army as of 29 June 2023; and if he will provide a breakdown by (a) combat and (b) combat support personnel. Answer from James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces (Ministry of Defence):
“As of 1 April 2023, the British Army Trade Trained Regular strength was 70,985. Of this figure, 22,643 personnel were in combat roles, and 20,036 were in combat support roles. These are the most recently published official figures.”
Army – To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many infantry battalions the Army has; and how many of them have (a) protected and (b) unprotected armour. Answer from James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces (Ministry of Defence):
“The British Army currently has 30 regular infantry battalions; nine with either armoured or protected mobility vehicles and 21 without. These 21 units sit within Light or Air Manoeuvre Brigades however, also includes Ranger, Security Force Assistance and Experimentation units.”
F-35 Aircraft – Crew: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many fully trained F-35 pilots have been in service with the RAF in each year since 2018.
Answer from James Heappey, Minister for Armed Forces (Ministry of Defence):
“I am withholding the information requested as its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces
CHW (London – 27th July 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785