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31 Aug 23. Why Grant Shapps got the job as Defence Secretary. Grant Shapps is the new Defence Secretary, after Ben Wallace officially resigned this morning. The seasoned cabinet minister moves from energy secretary to the coveted role. As I reported in this week’s politics column for the magazine, the desired criteria in No. 10 for the candidate included ‘efficient, non-flashy, loyal, decent’. Does Shapps fit all four? Well, he’s certainly loyal having backed Rishi Sunak not once but twice for leader. He’s also viewed as a capable minister both in terms of running a department and performing on the media. Shapps – who famously took the media round over Barnard Castle when Boris Johnson was prime minister – is seen as one of the safest pairs of hands.
As for Shapps’s defence credentials, he conveniently visited Kyiv in the past week. He also very briefly served as the chair of the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group, moving to the Home Office under Liz Truss before her premiership imploded (he is the shortest-serving home secretary in history). He has been a member of the National Security Council from previous roles.
No. 10 wanted Wallace’s successor to be someone they could trust
In his energy brief, Shapps has worked to help Ukraine bolster its fuel security for the winter months and beyond which he argued would help to isolate Putin. Shapps still has big shoes to fill. Wallace was routinely top of ConservativeHome’s cabinet league table and respected by many opposition MPs. His extensive military knowledge was credited for the UK being well-placed to help Ukraine early on. When it comes to voter issues, a recent Ipsos political monitor found that responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the only policy area where voters thought that Labour would do worse than the Tories.
Ultimately the reason Shapps has the brief is that No. 10 wanted Wallace’s successor to be someone they could trust when it comes to tricky spending decisions – both in terms of the current situation and the message at the next election.
During the Tory leadership race, Sunak refused to pledge as much as Truss on defence, with the former prime minister promising to spend 3 per cent of GDP on defence by 2030. When Sunak succeeded Truss, he watered this down – but has vowed to boost funding to 2.5 per cent of GDP in the long term. The worry among Sunak allies was that the wrong candidate could start to lobby for spending commitments the Treasury would struggle to match. Shapps is likely to play ball. Most immediately, Shapps will have to deal with the UK’s depleted military supplies – much of it has been sent to Ukraine.
Shapps’s promotion leaves a vacancy in the energy brief so there will still be a few more moves today. However, the wider reshuffle will take place after the party conference in October. For why that is, see this week’s Spectator politics column. (Source: Spectator)
31 Aug 23. Grant Shapps replaces Ben Wallace as UK Defence Secretary.
Having announced his intention to retire from politics, Ben Wallace will be replaced by Grant Shapps as the new UK Defence Secretary.
The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has appointed Grant Shapps, formerly the UK’s Energy minister, as the new Defence Secretary, following previous incumbent Ben Wallace’s intention to retire from politics.
For what was once an office on the fringe of political significance at a time of relative peace, the role of Defence Secretary has come into prominence as tensions mount on the world stage – with war in Europe and the growing military posture of China and other autocratic states.
This appointment is Shapp’s fifth cabinet position, after serving in Energy, the Home Department, Transport, as well as the Department for International Development.
On X, a social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Shapps expressed his gratitude saying he is “honoured to be appointed.”
Shapps also paid “tribute to the enormous contribution Ben Wallace [his predecessor] has made to UK defence and global security over the last four years,” and that he intends to continue “the UK’s support for Ukraine in their fight against [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s barbaric invasion.”
In his resignation letter to Sunak yesterday, Wallace noted he had left the UK Ministry of Defence in a better state than when he entered four years ago.
“As I finish my tenure, I can reflect that the Ministry of Defence that I leave is now more modern, better funded and more confident than the organisation I took over in 2019.”
The former Defence Secretary oversaw the evacuation of British troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 to spearheading western support to Ukraine’s Armed Forces in repelling invading Russian forces from the country.
Wallace expressed his intention to retire from politics since he failed to ascend to the post of Nato General Secretary. Instead, the incumbent Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway, will continue in his international role for another year.
Wallace also noted other milestones in his four-year long service: “I am proud that I have secured GCAP, AUKUS, NCF, National shipbuilding and the Defence and Security industrial strategies that will secure thousands of British jobs for our young people many years into the future.”
In a world more divided across an increasingly multi-polar environment, Wallace remained attentive to the fact that “over the next decade the world will get more insecure and more unstable. [He and Sunak] both share the belief that now is the time to invest.”
“We must not return to the days where defence was viewed as a discretionary spend by government and savings were achieved by hollowing out,” he added. (Source: army-technology.com)
Comment: Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd. I deliberately chose not to include Grant Shapps as being a remote possibility of becoming the next and probably last Secretary of State or Defence because to anyone of sound mind the idea of putting someone in with zero knowledge or understanding of defence in such difficult and dangerous period in geo-politics that we have witnessed in two generations was preposterous. Not for the first time, a UK Prime Minister has seemingly appointed a Cabinet Minister who will clearly do as he is told and not answer back. Perhaps it was a case and route of Defence or Back Benches as some of you will recall that Gordon Brown chose when he appointed John Hutton to the same post in 2008 – one that lasted under a year and very must resembles the situation of the Shapps appointment in that it is unlikely to last more than a year. There is no other way of saying this, Shapps a bad choice in my view and a potential disaster for UK defence and may well go down as, of all the decisions the current PM, Rishi Sunak has so far made, the worst by a very long mark I live in hope that our US allies in the Pentagon will give Sunak a very hard time along with those in Nato as well! Are we mad? We didn’t need a replacement for the now Lord Hammond of Runnymede, better known perhaps as ‘Forensic’ Phil’. What we needed is someone with wide knowledge and understanding of the many weaknesses in UK defence capability and someone with the acumen match. Shapps may be a pilot in his own right but that’s where is starts and ends. He will now need to be trained by hundreds of MOD civil servants and members of our thee main Armed Forces and I have to say that I do not envy them their job. Press and media may well tear this appointment to shreds!
30 Aug 23. US fighter jets capable of nuclear bombing to be based in UK. New United States fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons will be based in the UK as soon as this year.
Two squadrons of F-35 As have been deployed and will arrive at the US-rented RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk imminently, The Telegraph understands.
The stealth jets are designed to carry out tactical nuclear bombing and are capable of conducting air-to-air missions and intelligence gathering.
It comes after official documents suggested US nuclear weapons could return to British soil.
The documents revealed that the US Congress received an air force budgetary request for $50m (£39.6m) to build a “surety dormitory” at the American airbase. The term “surety” is used in US military parlance to refer to nuclear weapons.
Analysts believe the dormitory would accommodate an increased number of military personnel if nuclear weapons are deployed to bolster the 6,000 members of personnel who currently work at the base.
A defence source told The Telegraph: “F-35s will be based there. They have deployed and will be moving in at the end of this year, if not sometime in 2024.”
Military sources described the move to bring in 54 F-35s, which will replace the F-15s currently at the airbase, as “significant”. F-15s are able to carry nuclear weapons, but are less advanced.
The source said: “It’s a newer, more capable aircraft, which has a longer range and stealth, which is crucial if you are going to use them to accurately drop nuclear bombs.”
A total of 110 US nuclear bombs were stored at RAF Lakenheath until 2008, when they were removed after the threat of nuclear war subsided.
Both the Ministry of Defence and No 10 declined to comment on whether American nuclear warheads had or would be deployed to the UK.
However, the defence source added: “Why we have a special relationship with the US is because we talk to them, they talk to us and we don’t divulge secrets.”
The potential return of US nuclear weapons to British soil has been described by experts as evidence that the West has entered a new cold war.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain and Nato’s Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, said: “This is absolutely a cold war and it is strategic brinkmanship. This is a game of poker. If the US is putting nukes in the UK, it’s a message to Russia that they are serious.
“The deterrent is only a deterrent if the enemy thinks you will use it. That’s worked for the last 75 years, but we are now in a position where a tyrant in an unstable country is threatening to use nuclear weapons and the only way to stop them is to make them see they will get it back in spades.”
Prof Malcolm Chalmers, of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said building on the airbase means the US “could move them a lot more quickly in a time of rising tensions”, adding: “They want the option of bringing them over.”
Matt Hancock, whose West Suffolk constituency covers RAF Lakenheath, said he welcomed the “potential expansion”.
“I know only too well how special RAF Lakenheath is and recognise the importance of reinforcing our commitment to shared security and democratic values,” he said.
“The people of West Suffolk have long been proud to welcome American service personnel who live in our community. We must continue to support and stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends and allies, especially in the face of Putin’s menacing aggression.”
Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the defence select committee, said: “If the Americans believe they need to store nuclear weapons this side of the Atlantic, it is a massive indicator of how dangerous and complex our world is becoming.”
Mr Ellwood added that the UK is “part of a strategic alliance” in which “the US is our closest partner”, adding: “If they believe it is in wider security interests to place these weapons in the UK, then we should be supportive of that.”
Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists think tank, said analysis of official US government budgetary documents showed upgrades to RAF Lakenheath that could enable nuclear weapons to be moved to the site if required.
Currently, there are around 150 American-controlled B-61 nuclear gravity bombs stationed in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey.
“We are now seeing signs that they may establish nuclear weapons at Lakenheath,” Mr Kristensen told The Telegraph.
He explained the new funding secured for the base would be to “both upgrade the storage facilities for nuclear weapons and add living quarters for personnel to do the mission”.
However, Mr Kristensen warned that Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, would have to agree to any nuclear weapons being stored on British soil, as well as Nato because of its nuclear posture in Europe.
He added that any such deployment of nuclear weapons would have to be authorised by the US president.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has vowed to stop American nuclear weapons from returning to UK soil. CND warned that if such weapons do return to Britain, it would “make the UK once again a forward nuclear base for the US”. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
30 Aug 23. Serbia: Government will continue balancing act on EU membership bid, affirming status quo. On 29 August, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated that Serbia’s membership in the EU is unlikely before 2030 due to the bloc changing its membership criteria. The statement followed a call by European Council (EC) President Charles Michel that the EU was ready for enlargement in 2030. Serbia has opened 22 of the necessary 35 chapters for accession thus far, though it has made little progress since 2021. The 2022 EU country report cites concerns over reforms, Serbia’s stance on Russia, minority rights and corruption. Despite less than 50% of its population supporting EU accession, Serbia benefits greatly from its EU candidacy status, particularly from the associated free trade agreement (approximately 80% of its trade is done with the bloc). The Serbian government has therefore been trying to balance maintaining EU candidacy benefits without having to undertake moves unpopular with both its population and anti-EU allies like Russia. Serbia will almost certainly continue this balancing policy for the foreseeable future. (Source: Sibylline)
28 Aug 23. Newest NATO member Finland to spend 2.3% of GDP on defence, NATO’s newest member Finland plans to spend 2.3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence next year, its defence ministry said on Monday.
In July, NATO’s 31 member-nations agreed to spend a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence. Previously the 2% target had been a goal to aim for over time and only seven allies met the target in 2022, according to NATO.
Finland joined the alliance in April, in a historic security policy U-turn in response to neighbouring Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
It said it planned to spend 6bn euros ($6.48bn), or 2.3% of its GDP, on defence in 2024, which is some 116m euros less than the estimate for 2023.
Finland’s defence spending has increased significantly in recent years, even before it became a NATO member, because it is replacing its ageing fleet of F/A-18 combat jets with F-35 fighter jets.
Finland is also spending on military aid to Ukraine, with the total value of its military equipment donations reaching 1.3bn euros last week.
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“From the point of view of the future security order of Europe and Finland, it is a core issue that Russia’s aggressive efforts can be dammed in Ukraine,” defence minister Antti Hakkanen said in a statement to announce the latest donation. ($1 = 0.9255 euros) (Source: Google/Reuters)
28 Aug 23. NATO and Allies Conduct Long-Range Drills Testing Interoperability Over Romania. On August 24, NATO Allies conducted verification testing above Romania on how their air assets work together to protect NATO airspace with Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) assets.
This mission was extremely beneficial for all participating air forces to execute and achieve integration and interoperability.
The verification test saw fighter and air-to-air refueling aircraft from France, Spain and Türkiye come together over Romania, improving the readiness and interoperability of NATO IAMD alongside additional assets such as surface-based air and missile defence (SBAMD) systems. During the mission, NATO Allied Air Command via the Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejón oversaw the procedural test analysing how these assets can be brought to work together efficiently.
“NATO IAMD provides a highly responsive, time-critical and persistent capability to achieve a desired level of control of the air, this ensures the Alliance is able to achieve freedom of action to conduct the full range of its missions, safeguarding and protecting Alliance territory,” said Brigadier General Christoph Pliet, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Allied Air Command. “This mission was extremely beneficial for all participating air forces to execute and achieve integration and interoperability,” he added.
Once activated, SBAMD units provide their data into the NATO IAMD network which comprises national and NATO-provided sensors, command and control assets, and weapons systems. This joint and combined defensive network compiles the data received into one recognised air and missile picture.
“The participating fighter jets operated out of their home or deployed bases and flew in to Romania with the help of critical air-to-air refueling aircraft and integrated with in-place SBAMD units. This complex mission demonstrated that NATO and its Allies are capable of conducting long-range flexible deterrence options in addition to maintaining an overall posture ready to deter and defend every inch of NATO territory,” General Pliet added.
NATO IAMD is a defensive component of the Alliance’s Joint Air Power, which aims to ensure the stability and security of NATO airspace by coordinating, controlling and exploiting the air domain. It is an essential, continuous mission in peacetime, crisis and conflict, conducted using a 360-degree approach across NATO territory, and is prepared to address the full spectrum of threats.
(Source: https://www.defense-aerospace.com/ NATO Allied Air Command)
09 Aug 23. Babcock supports the British Army with an engineering apprenticeship programme. We have been awarded a six-year contract to continue to support the British Army in delivering one of the biggest apprenticeship programmes in the UK. The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) provides engineering support to maintain and repair British Army equipment, from tanks to helicopters and vehicles to generators. Engineers often have to make critical engineering decisions in challenging conditions, so the training provided to engineers must give them the confidence and knowledge to tackle any engineering problem in any situation.
The REME apprenticeship programme provides aspiring engineers with an opportunity to develop their skills and contribute to the British Army’s vital operations across the world – and our proven track record in delivering comprehensive training and support services positions us as the ideal partner.
We will continue to play a pivotal role, supporting learners throughout their apprenticeships and assessing soldiers to make sure they meet the technical standards needed. We ensure apprentices can apply their training in barracks or in the field, carrying out these critical assessments worldwide.
“This is an excellent opportunity for Babcock to continue its work as strategic partner of the British Army. We are proud to support their ambition to invest in their people with high quality apprenticeships which are widely recognised”, said Jo Rayson, Managing Director of Babcock’s Training business.
Managing all aspects of the army training cycle, we design and deliver over 758,000 individual training days annually, including large scale live and simulated collective training events to validate operational readiness for British Army battlegroups, brigade and division headquarters in the UK and Europe.
Lieutenant General, Ian Cave CB, Commander Home Command, said: “This year, for an unprecedented third year in a row, the Army has been named the leading provider of apprenticeships in the UK. The Army Apprenticeship programme equips our soldiers with invaluable technical expertise through hands-on training and mentorship.
“We are proud that 95% of soldiers are enrolled onto an apprenticeship programme, showcasing our commitment to invest in our people by providing a strong learning and training culture. As an engine for social mobility the Army trains and develops our people to succeed and fulfil their potential irrespective of their background and experiences. We are pleased to be partnering with Babcock who are supporting this crucial investment in our people through the REME Apprenticeship contract.”
04 Aug 23. New Taskforce to Build UK Nuclear Skills.
— New Nuclear Skills Taskforce to turbo charge skills activity in nuclear sector.
— Sir Simon Bollom appointed as Taskforce’s Chair.
— Bringing together government, employers and academia to meet nuclear skills growth opportunities.
A new Nuclear Skills Taskforce will ensure the UK’s defence and civil nuclear sectors have the right people with the right skills to seize growth opportunities.
The nuclear industry underpins hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK, both directly and through the extended supply chain, and is growing rapidly. Nuclear has a wide variety of roles ranging from technical scientific and engineering roles through to logistics, project management, commercial and finance – with a range of apprentice and graduate opportunities.
The UK’s nuclear capability plays a significant role in the security, prosperity and resilience of our nation. Putting our nuclear workforce at the heart of this upskilling work will help deliver on the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy and support UK jobs.
Chaired by Sir Simon Bollom – former Chief Executive Officer of Defence Equipment and Support – the Taskforce will address how the UK continues to build nuclear skills across its defence and civil workforce.
The UK’s Nuclear sectors are in positive periods of growth and the workforce will expand further given the AUKUS nuclear submarine partnership and the government’s drive around energy security.
Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge said: “By developing nuclear skills, we are not just investing in the UK economy but our national security. The creation of this new Taskforce will challenge the whole of the UK’s nuclear sector to be ambitious in addressing the nuclear skills gap, and we are delighted to appoint Sir Simon Bollom to drive this work forward.”
Building on the work already undertaken with industry and across government by the Ministry of Defence and Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Taskforce will develop a skills strategy to support the significant growth expected across a range of roles in the defence and civil nuclear sectors in the coming years.
Against a backdrop of increasing international competition for such roles, the Taskforce will set up the UK’s nuclear sector for future success, supporting industry to build a long-term and sustainable pipeline of skills to meet our nuclear ambition.
Minister for Nuclear, Andrew Bowie said: “The UK’s nuclear revival, with the launch of Great British Nuclear, will put us centre-stage in the global race to unleash a new generation of nuclear technology.
“The Nuclear Skills Taskforce will support this expansion by securing the skills and workforce we need to deliver this, opening up exciting opportunities and careers to help bolster our energy security.”
The launch of Great British Nuclear will boost energy security and create job opportunities across the UK. Recently launched, it forms part of a revival of nuclear power to place the UK at the forefront of a global race to develop cutting-edge nuclear technologies and deliver cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy.
Great British Nuclear will deliver the government’s long-term nuclear programme and support the government’s ambition to deliver up to 24GW of nuclear power in the UK by 2050. Part of this will be delivered through the huge projects taking place at the Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C nuclear power plants.
Having served as an engineer officer in the RAF for 35 years, and most recently as the Chief Executive Officer of the Defence Equipment and Support, Taskforce Chair Sir Simon Bollom has a strong network and credibility with industry given his extensive experience in Defence. He is also currently on the Board of the Submarine Delivery Agency.
Sir Simon Bollom KBE CB FREng, Chair of the Nuclear Skills Taskforce, said: “I am absolutely delighted to have secured this extremely important role. The Nuclear Sector is vital to our nation, and I am proud to have been given the opportunity to lead such an important Taskforce to ensure that we have the people, and skills we need to deliver our Programmes.”
The UK’s nuclear industry is crucial for Britain’s military capabilities. Our Vanguard and Astute submarines, and from the early 2030s the new Dreadnought Class, use nuclear technology, keeping the nation safe every minute of every day.
The creation of the UK’s next generation nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS partnership will see the creation of thousands of UK jobs, and all the nuclear reactors for the UK and Australian SSN-AUKUS submarines will be made in Derby.
Sir Simon Bollom will be joined on the Taskforce by representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Department for Education, academia and professional bodies as well as industry partners. (Source: https://www.defense-aerospace.com/UK MoD)
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