42 Commando to lose 200 men and be re-roled as maritime security force

Royal Marines 42 Commando AfghanistanAmid intense opposition from ministers and the public alike, the MoD has confirmed that 42 Commando – one of three frontline Royal Marine units – is to be withdrawn from frontline battlefield duties. The unit, which is based at Bickleigh just outside Plymouth and has seen extensive combat in Afghanistan, will be streamlined with the loss of 200 personnel with the remainder being re-roled as a maritime security force primarily focused on defending surface vessels from attack by potentially hostile boarders such as pirates rather than continuous combat operations on shore alongside the Army and RAF.

The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, told the Plymouth Herald;

As someone who has worked with Royal Marines at every stage of my career, most notably when commanding the Amphibious Task Group from RM Stonehouse, I know how vital their role is as the UK’s premier high readiness contingency force.

However, as First Sea Lord, I also know we must adapt to meet the challenges of a dangerous and uncertain world. The Government is investing in a new generation of ships, submarines and aircraft. As we introduce these capabilities into Service, we must ensure we have the right mix of skills across each of the Navy’s Fighting Arms to optimise how we use them, and the Commandant General and I have sought to find the right balance between sailors and marines in responding to this challenge.

The Royal Marines remain bound in to every part of the Royal Navy’s future, from conducting sophisticated operations from the sea, at a variety of scales and against a range of threats, using our new aircraft carriers as a base, to leading the service’s development of information warfare. They will continue to be as vital to the defence of the realm in the years ahead as they have been for the past 350.

The loss of 42 Commando leaves only 40 Commando and 45 Commando able to be deployed on battlefield operations in the future.

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Pakistan Chief of Army Staff in London to meet with MoD

General Qamar Bajwa of the Pakistani Army arrived in the UK on Sunday evening accompanied by Major General Asif Ghafoor at the start of a five day visit organised by the British Ministry of Defence. General Bajwa will meet British military leaders to discuss increasing the military relationship between the UK and Pakistan in the fight against extremist groups operating in Southern Asia including ISIS.

Pakistan army chief of staff qamar bajwaAmong the topics the General and his aide are expected to discuss include Pakistan’s concerns regarding extremism within Pakistan’s tribal area, the situation in Afghanistan, the security of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and the disputed Kashmir region. As well as meeting British military and political leaders, the General is also expected to meet with leaders of the Pakistani community in the UK.

General Bajwa was promoted to the rank of four star general and appointed as the Chief of the Army Staff of the Pakistan Army by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016. He is the 16th general to hold the post and succeeded General Raheel Sharif who had held the post since 2013. Bajwa is known to be an advocate of democracy and has been characterised as having a more tempered approach to India than some of his predecessors.

The General’s visit to the UK follows a visit to Pakistan by the UK’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd last month. During the visit she was quoted in local media as saying;

Pakistan has suffered more than most from the scourge of terrorism…I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of the [Pakistan Interior] minister as well as Pakistan’s police and its armed forces in delivering significant improvements in security across the country over the last two years…We have a lot to learn from each other.

Downing Street confirms PM knew about Trident missile test but malfunction claims still dismissed

Vanguard class

A Downing Street spokesperson speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that she was made aware of a Trident II D5 missile test carried out in June 2016 before she petitioned ministers to vote to renew the nuclear deterrent. The Prime Minister had side-stepped questions put to her by the BBC following claims in The Sunday Times that she deliberately withheld knowledge of the test because the missile malfunctioned.

When questioned on whether the missile did indeed malfunction however the spokesperson was less clear;

We have been clear that the submarine and the crew were successfully tested and certified. That was the purpose of the operation. What is also clear is that the capability and effectiveness of the Trident missile is unquestionable.

Loosely translated, the spokesperson is stating that the operation was a success because it was designed to test the submarine – namely HMS Vengeance – and not the missile. However, adding that the effectiveness of the Trident missile was “unquestionable” implies that either there was no malfunction during the test or that any malfunction that did occur has now been addressed and the government and MoD is confident that it won’t happen again.

In the last few hours, US news juggernaut CNN reported that an American official had said to them that the British missile was diverted into the ocean. This occurred automatically when the electronics onboard detected an anomaly within the missile’s systems but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, when quizzed about this today refused to confirm a malfunction took place citing issues of secrecy and security regarding the nuclear deterrent.

Either way the Prime Minister and her government’s handling of the situation has only fuelled the anti-nuclear campaign in the UK with the secretive nature of the Prime Minister’s response on Sunday leading to speculation of a cover-up.

PM questioned on knowledge of Trident malfunction ahead of decision to renew nuclear deterrent

theresa-may-british-prime-minister-2016British Prime Minister Theresa May has been put under pressure to answer questions over whether she deliberately withheld knowledge of a malfunction of a Trident missile fired from HMS Vengeance weeks before she lobbied Parliament for the nuclear deterrent to be renewed. The accusation was made by The Sunday Times newspaper claiming a “naval source” broke the story of the malfunction to them.

In June 2016, the Vanguard-class SSBN HMS Vengeance test fired an unarmed Trident II D5 nuclear missile as part of an operation which is designed to certify the submarine and its crew for conducting nuclear deterrence patrols with live nuclear weapons. In the wake of the The Sunday Times claims the MoD issued a statement saying;

Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent.

Vanguard-class nuclear submarine trident2

The newspaper claims that the missile, which was intended to be fired 5,600 miles to a target area off the west coast of Africa, malfunctioned and instead veered towards the US. Interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC, the Prime Minister rebuffed four questions regarding the claim which has left her exposed to criticism from the leaders of two of the major British political parties – Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party – both of whom have routinely voiced their opposition to maintaining the British nuclear deterrent.

Both the MoD and Downing Street have issued statements denying the newspaper’s claims regarding a malfunction but there are still calls for an investigation.

On July 18th 2016, a month after the test took place, Parliament voted 472-117 to renew the nuclear deterrent based around the Trident II D5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) carried by the new Dreadnought-class SSBNs. The first Dreadnought-class is expected to enter service in 2028 and the cost of the entire project is expected to be around £40bn.

 

British MPs pushing Prime Minister to let RAF drop aid in to Aleppo

RAF A400M Atlas AirbusA cross party group have submitted a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May demanding that the RAF begin dropping aid in to the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria. In the letter the signatories stated that “100,000 children are facing the slowest death” unless RAF transports drop food and medical supplies to the population.

Quoted in the Guardian newspaper, the letter to the PM said;

With our Royal Air Force already operational in the air over Syria, we are calling on you to urgently authorise the air-dropping of aid to besieged civilian populations. It is simply not acceptable that during the biggest aid operation in the UN’s history, and in the full glare of the world’s media, nearly 100,000 children are facing the slowest, cruellest death because we cannot reach them with food and medical supplies.

Labour MP Alison McGovern who helped draft the letter added;

The situation in Aleppo is beyond desperate. Those who said ‘never again’ after Rwanda, after Srebrenica, may have meant it, but we have failed. The least the UK can do is recognise that this is our last chance to save lives in Aleppo. Therefore, we must heed the call of the White Helmets, and start aid drops. This is far from ideal – a route by road for aid would be better – but the [Syrian] regime has offered no such route.

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe biggest concern for any plan to drop aid in to Aleppo is just how Assad’s Syrian government and his Russian allies would react. The skies over the city have seen heavy Russian and Syrian air activity in the last few days after Russia ended its suspension of air operations. The fresh air strikes have included aircraft from the Russian Navy’s carrier, the Admiral Kuzentsov (right), and cruise missile strikes from surface ships in the Mediterranean.

Moscow has said they would be open to allowing aid in to the city providing it was under the right conditions although just what those conditions are remain unclear. With Russian state sponsored news service RT running stories claiming that the White Helmets (Syrian civil defence – a volunteer, non-government organisation who work to rescue civilians caught up in the fighting) are supporting the rebels and having links to terrorism it is unlikely that Moscow will allow the RAF or any other western coalition aircraft to drop supplies to them in Aleppo. The biggest problem the Russians and Syrians have with the White Helmets is their release of videos of civilian casualties who have been caught up in their air strikes and which runs contrary to claims they are carrying out precision strikes against terrorist factions.

A Foreign Office spokesperson responding to the letter said;

Our priority is the protection of civilians in Syria who face an appalling humanitarian situation. We call on the Assad regime and their Russian supporters to bring about an end to terrible crisis immediately. We will continue to look at all options with our international partners to alleviate the suffering of millions of Syrians.