News Round-Up – April 27th 2016

800px-Panavia_Tornado_GR4_4_(5969084992)

Here are some of the latest British military news stories making the headlines.

RAF unleash its enhanced 2,000lb bunker buster bombs for the first time against ISIS, as tunnel network is obliterated in Iraq
(Daily Mail)

Ministry of Defence Should Face Prosecution When Armed Forces Personnel Are Killed During Training, Say MPs
(Huffington Post)

UK MoD to streamline CATT support
(Shepard Media)

Nicola Sturgeon warns Westminster over Royal Navy vessels order
(Daily Mail)

Royal navy could be sent to help Libyans curb people smugglers: David Cameron says he wants to ‘build the capacity’ of the country’s coastguard to fight criminals
(Daily Mail)

Abandoned: Armed Forces veterans who lost their jobs following government cuts – and were then denied a pension
(This Is Money)

Fighter exercise concludes Anglo-French Griffin Strike
(Flight Global)

RAF officer Alistair Paton from Falmouth taking part in round-the-world expedition
(Falmouth Packet)

UK Astronaut Completes 60,000 Mile London Marathon
(Discovery)

Chinese navy officers given insight into training at Dartmouth’s Britannia Royal Naval College
(Southams Today)

Disclaimer: all news stories are the property of their respective publishers. Any opinions expressed in the articles are of the person making them.

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NEWS: UK and NATO troops to conduct exercise in Ukraine

British troops on exercise in Ukraine in 2014 (army.mod.uk)

British troops on exercise in Ukraine in 2014 (army.mod.uk)

Rapid Trident 2015 will involve British soldiers together with troops from several other partner nations including the United States in the west of the country. The location of the exercise has been made very public so as to stem Russian suspicion that the exercise is really a cover for NATO involvement in the fight against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country which continues despite several ceasefires being declared.

The exercise is scheduled to begin on the 20th of July and will last up to 11-days. According to the UK government the exercise is

…designed to promote regional stability and security, strengthen Ukraine’s defensive capacity, and build trust between participating nations. It also aims to improve the ability of Ukraine and partner nations to conduct joint operations, and to develop the capacity of our partners in Eastern Europe to contribute to international peacekeeping operations.

Again the wording here is very careful given the sensitive situation in the Ukraine. The wording makes no mention of the situation in the east of the country almost ignoring it completely which again is most likely a careful effort not to openly antagonise the Russian position. It would be natural that any military exercise in the Ukraine by the west would be viewed upon suspiciously by the Russians as they themselves began their involvement in the Crimea in 2014 under the guise of a military exercise. Rapid Trident has been an ongoing series of exercises since 1998 which again adds to the impression that the exercise is not related to the situation in east Ukraine.

However, the UK government statement does discretely add;

While the purpose of this training is to develop the capacity of participating soldiers to take part in international peacekeeping operations, the skills being shared are essential tasks for any defence force as they will need to protect themselves and personnel under their protection.

This more or less implies that skills learned during the exercise can at least be applied to the situation in the east of the country if that is not the true purpose of the exercise in the first place.

British forces involved in the exercise will include Battle Group Headquarters staff and an infantry platoon from the 1st Battalion The Rifles amounting to a total of around 50 personnel. The exercise will take place in two phases the first of which will see British forces training Ukrainian personnel in how to organise an effective defence against an attacking forces and will primarily revolve around the command and control role. The second phase will concentrate on battle skills and will test the training undertaken during phase one.

NEWS: The end of military SAR

The iconic yellow Sea King is bowing out (targeta.co.uk)

The iconic yellow Sea King is bowing out (targeta.co.uk)

Sixty years of military search and rescue has officially come to an end with private operator Bristow Helicopters taking over search and rescue in North Wales. Bristow have a contract to provide the service for up to ten years equipped with new Sikorsky S-92 aircraft to replace the distinctive and iconic yellow Sea Kings of No.22 Squadron RAF.

The deal has also seen the main base of operations move from RAF Valley on Anglesey to a new base at Caernarfon. A second base will be established at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan from October to provide search and rescue for the south coast of Wales.

Bristow’s S-92 helicopters have a crew of four and are capable of flying at 145mph. According to Bristow two thirds of staff at the new Caernarfon base consist of current serving military personnel that will soon transfer to the company having been guaranteed employment.

NEWS: One-third of RAF combat aircraft unserviceable

Panavia Tornado

According to the Daily Express newspaper a third of the Royal Air Force’s fast-jet force has been rendered unserviceable pending repairs as a result of near continuous combat operations in Afghanistan, Lybia and Iraq. According to the newspaper MoD figures reveal that 36 of the RAF’s 91 Eurofighter Typhoons and 39 of the 96 Panavia Tornado GR.4s have been taken off frontline duties for major repair work. With the Harrier force retired prematurely and operations against Islamic State in Iraq set to rise the worry is the situation could worsen.

The revelations came after Labour MP Madeline Moon raised the question in parliament. They responded with a rather vague statement saying;

Aircraft availability rates change considerably over very short periods of time.

Loosely translated what the RAF are trying to say is that the fact of the matter is intensive operations will take a toll on aircraft serviceability rates. These are complex machines being made to work in quite austere and punishing conditions and it is inevitable that some of them will develop some kind of malfunction that needs repair. This is not a situation unique to the RAF but to all military flying forces. The concern is that unlike the US Air Force or indeed the Royal Saudi Air Force the RAF simply doesn’t have the reserve forces to make up for the shortfall after savage cuts by the coalition government in 2010. The loss of the Harrier fleet is now being felt by the RAF who are carrying out a dangerous job with the usual professionalism and commitment that the British public and their government seem to take for granted these days which has led to this situation in the first place.

NEWS: Royal Marine dies on Dartmoor

A Royal Marine trainee has died whilst undertaking a 30 mile march across Dartmoor. The Ministry of Defence confirmed today that the trainee (who has not yet been named) was taken ill during the march known to trainees and instructors simply as the 30-miler and then died shortly after. The cause of the trainee’s death has yet to be determined and an investigation is being launched.

The trainee was based at the the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon when he died on Thursday. The march across Dartmoor is the last major test undertaken by prospective trainee marines as part of the 32-week Commando course considered to be the most rigorous training undertaken by regular British forces.

NEWS: Trident whistleblower’s claims dismissed by Defence Secretary

Michael FallonBritish Defence Secretary Michael Fallon launched a full attack on the “Trident whistleblower” Able Seaman William McNeilly’s unofficial report today. It’s the strongest rebuttal of the report since it was published online by the sailor who claimed that Britain’s Trident submarines were an accident “waiting to happen.”

Speaking today, Mr. Fallon stated that none of the claims regarding the safety and security of Britain’s nuclear deterrent made by Belfast-born Able Seaman McNeilly have been proven accurate. McNeilly, who had served on a single training cruise of the Trident submarine HMS Victorious, feared the repercussions of his report so much that he went absent without leave from the navy for several days until he was apprehended at Edinburgh airport and held by military police. By that time he had developed quite a following on British social media with an online petition demanding that no criminal charges be brought against him for publishing the report or going AWOL.

Mr. Fallon stated today however that many of the concerns raised by McNeilly’s report were “factually incorrect.” He then added;

[McNeilly’s claims were] the result of mis- or partial understanding; some drew on historic, previously known, events none of which had compromised our deterrent capability and, where appropriate, from which lessons had been learned to develop our procedures as part of a continuous improvement programme…We have found no evidence that he raised any concerns with colleagues on board or with the chain of command: had he done so, the more senior and experienced submariners would have been able to explain how the boat operated and why McNeilly’s concerns were unfounded.

NEWS: HMS Bulwark rescues another 400 migrants

Migrants aboard a landing craft (Royal Navy)

The Ministry of Defence has released footage taken by the Royal Navy of the latest rescue of African migrants conducted by the British warship HMS Bulwark operating in the Mediterranean. The footage shows how over 400 migrants including pregnant women and children crammed themselves aboard just four inflatable dinghies and set out across the Mediterranean hoping to reach Italy and the safety of the European Union.

HMS Bulwark deployed her landing craft, vessels more accustomed to taking troops ashore than rescuing migrants, in order to get the people off the dangerously overcrowded dinghies as quickly as possible. Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel were so concerned about the possibility that people may actually be nudged off the dinghies that their first priority was to issue them life jackets before they began transferring to the landing craft.

Once the transfer from the dinghies was complete the landing craft turned back to Bulwark where they docked at the rear of the vessel. Upon being taken onboard the migrants were given medical and humanitarian aid before plans to transfer them to the shore could be acted upon. This has been the biggest rescue operation carried out by HMS Bulwark since arriving in the Mediterranean at the end of April.