The Telegraph 2024-02-04 12:01:23

Britain’s ‘hollowed out’ Armed Forces not ready to fight Russia

Britain’s “increasingly overstretched” Armed Forces are not ready for a war with Russia, a damning inquiry by MPs has concluded.

A year-long review by the Commons defence committee found that the Government “will never achieve warfighting or strategic readiness” without urgent reforms to reverse a recruitment crisis and dramatically boost Britain’s stockpile of weapons and ammunition.

In a stark report, the MPs said that the Armed Forces required more funding to “engage in operations whilst also developing warfighting readiness” or it would have to reduce the “operational burden” on the military.

Amid increasing pressure on defence spending, the committee discovered that £1.95 billion of funding awarded in the Budget last spring may now be used to plug shortfalls in defence rather than to replenish and boost stockpiles.

Writing in The Telegraph, Sir Jeremy Quin, the committee’s Conservative chairman, states that the UK “must rise to the challenge” amid warnings that Nato countries may have just three years to prepare for a Russian offensive. 

Sir Jeremy, who was defence procurement minister until 2022, says: “To confront the threats we face with confidence, we need to know that we would be ready for war.”

The cross-party committee’s warning came after it was told by former defence chiefs that the Armed Forces had been “hollowed out” since 2010 and, “in a peer-on-peer conflict… would have exhausted their capabilities after the first couple of months of the engagement”.

The report states: “The UK Armed Forces have deployed above their capacity in response to the worsening security situation, but all have capability shortfalls and stockpile shortages, and are losing personnel faster than they can recruit them.”

Sir Jeremy adds: “The MoD have acknowledged that only five personnel are recruited for every eight that leave the military.” He says a renewed focus “on recruitment is vital and timely”.

No 10 ruled out conscription last month when Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, said that the UK must be ready to train citizens for a future conflict.

However, Gen Martin Herem, commander of Estonia’s Defence Force, which borders Russia, called on Nato countries to begin conscription programmes. 

“Whatever is scary for me, is not scary for the French or the English. That’s why it’s very hard to motivate their populations to join any kind of volunteer military movement ready to defend the country,” he said

“I definitely suggest for all countries to establish some kind of conscript-type of citizen services.

“First based on volunteers, like a one-year contract which includes the training and then another half year of service, before sending them to the reserves. That’s how you will have a reserve.”

A major weakness identified following evidence submitted by current and former defence chiefs, industry figures and ministers was a lack of domestic manufacturing capability to produce weapons, combat vehicles and ammunition at the pace required to replenish stockpiles and respond to the demand that would be created by a war.

In evidence to the committee, Lord Houghton, who was chief of the defence staff between 2013 and 2016, said that the UK had been taking a “risk” by ordering finite amounts of key equipment such as the NLAW missiles used to target Russian tanks in Ukraine – rather than longer-term contracts to ensure a ready supply.

The current approach – described by Lord Houghton as a “gross strategic error” – is now being urgently reviewed by senior ministers. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, said the Government should be “trying to work with our defence industries to line up longer runs in production”, adding that such an approach would require committing funding over several years.

The Telegraph understands that one commonly used munition – a 155mm artillery shell – which sources said was in “desperately short supply”, can only be produced by one machine in the UK.

Andrew Kinniburgh, the director-general of Make UK Defence, one of two major industry bodies for defence firms, said: “We are still struggling to get the Government to realise that, in terms of industrial capacity, if they don’t use it, they’ll lose it … if there is no demand, the defence industry will simply let that capability wither on the vine.”

He described NLAWs, thousands of which have been sent by the UK to Ukraine, as “a great example of where there were no orders for years and, as a result, the production lines were effectively shut down”.

In another case, Mr Kinniburgh said, the UK “didn’t spend a penny on armoured vehicles for years” so “when it came to buying the much-delayed Ajax vehicles we had to use a Spanish-designed vehicle as the base platform”.

Lord Houghton told the committee that the purchase of key warfighting equipment in one-off, finite orders was “a gross strategic error in our national resilience”.

The report identifies three types of military readiness, only one of which it says is “proven” in the UK.

The first is operational readiness – “the ability to deploy a force for a standing commitment or respond to a crisis” – which the MPs concluded is “proven, but with issues of overstretch”.

Second is warfighting readiness – “the ability to deploy and sustain a force that can fight at high intensity in multiple domains for a prolonged period of time”. The committee said: “We find this to be in doubt.”

The third is strategic readiness – “the ability of the state to identify and utilise all the tools available to it to support a warfighting effort”. The MPs state that this still appeared to be a theoretical concept being debated in Whitehall rather than “an agreed policy with measurable deliverables”.

The report states: “It is clear that the Government will never achieve warfighting or strategic readiness without a thriving industrial base and without an offer that can attract, develop and sustain enough service personnel skilled to meet the increasing and evolving military challenges that we as a nation face. These reforms need to work, and at pace.”

On Saturday night, in the latest hardware setback for the military, the Royal Navy announced that its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was unable to take part in planned Nato duties from Sunday due to a problem with its starboard propeller shaft.

‘Ready to defend UK’

An MoD spokesman said: “Our Armed Forces are always ready to protect and defend the UK, and we continue to meet all operational commitments, including participating in every single Nato mission, supporting Ukraine, and tackling Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

“We are spending more than £50 billion on defence this year alone, and have significantly increased our spending on defence equipment to £288.6 billion over the next decade, including investing in deepening our stockpiles and bringing in new tanks, fighter jets and warships.

“We have been clear that increasing recruitment and improving retention across the services is a top priority, including through ensuring improved career opportunities and making it easier for people to re-join the forces, on top of the largest pay increase in more than 20 years.”

The spokesman added: “We are fully engaged with industry, allies and partners to ensure we can continue to equip Ukraine with vital supplies, while replacing all equipment and munitions granted in kind from UK stocks as efficiently as possible.”

The MoD had “placed an order for 155mm artillery shells with BAE Systems, which will increase the UK’s stockpile and deliver an eight-fold increase in production capacity.”

Britain and US launch fresh wave of strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen

Britain and the United States launched a fresh wave of strikes against the Houthi in Yemen on Saturday night, in a bid to further disable Iran-backed groups in the region.

The new strikes hit 36 targets across 13 locations following attacks by the Iran-backed groups against international and commercial shipping, as well as naval vessels travelling through the Red Sea.

Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s, supported by Voyager tankers, flew from Cyprus to join US forces in a further strike against Houthi locations involved in targeting shipping in the Bab al Mandab and southern Red Sea.

The Typhoons employed Paveway IV precision guided bombs against multiple military targets identified by careful intelligence analysis at three locations.

British aircraft targeted a ground control station inside a defensive position. This had been used to control Houthi drones, both attack and reconnaissance types, launched from further inland, operating over the sea against international shipping. The Typhoons also hit a number of targets at Bani.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, said: “The Houthis’ attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea are illegal and unacceptable and it is our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation.

“That is why the RAF engaged in a third wave of proportionate and targeted strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen. We acted alongside our US allies, with the support of many international partners, in self-defence and in accordance with international law.

“This is not an escalation. We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities.

“Having recently met those British personnel stationed in the region, I know the dedication and professionalism with which they serve our nation’s Armed Forces and I would like to thank them for ensuring this operation was a success.” 

It is the third time that the round of joint strikes have been carried out by the US and UK, which were launched by ships and fighter jets.

A joint statement from Britain and the US on Saturday night said they said they targeted buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defence systems and radars.

The strikes were “proportionate and necessary” to disrupt and degrade the Houthis’ abilities to strike international trade, the governments said.

They were “in response to a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilising Houthi actions since previous coalition strikes on Jan 11 and 22, 2024, including the Jan 27 attack which set ablaze the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker M/V Marlin Luanda”.

Australia, Bahrain,
 Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand also supported the action. 

The strikes follow an air assault in Iraq and Syria on Friday that targeted other Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend.

The Houthi targets were in 13 different locations and were struck by US F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier and by the USS Gravely and the USS Carney Navy destroyers firing Tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea, the US officials told the Associated Press.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed praised US President Joe Biden for his action and said: “I support President Biden’s robust action. I am confident the Biden Administration will continue to respond and safeguard the American people.”

Lloyd Austin III, the US Secretary of Defence, said there would be further action and added: “This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.

“We will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

“These precision strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade, and the lives of innocent mariners, and are in response to a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilising Houthi actions,” the statement added.

“Today’s strike specifically targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defence systems, and radars.

“The Houthis’ now more than 30 attacks on commercial vessels and naval vessels since mid-November constitute an international challenge. Recognising the broad consensus of the international community, our coalition of like-minded countries committed to upholding the rules-based order has continued to grow.”

Pro-Palestine protesters wave ‘Zionists control the media’ placards during London march

Pro-Palestine protesters waved placards alleging that Zionists control the media, as tens of thousands gathered in central London to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

Demonstrators also chanted “Yemen, Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around”, in reference to the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

Multiple banners displaying anti-Semitic tropes were displayed at the march, which began outside BBC headquarters in Portland Place and was due to finish in Whitehall.

One declared “the BBC is an arm of the Zionist propaganda machine”, while another stated: “Our media, tv, radio and government are controlled by Zionists.”

Another protester waved a placard depicting Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as a pig with devil horns on his head.

Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, was also depicted with devil horns.

Further posters depicted various Jewish and international figures wearing Hitler moustaches.

Police reported two arrests: one woman who was detained in Haymarket while attempting to set off a “smoke bomb or flare” and another for allegedly chanting slogans that could incite racial hatred.

The demonstration, the eighth such national march since the October 7 Hamas massacre that killed more than 1,300 in Israel, puts the Metropolitan Police under renewed scrutiny for its handling of such events, having previously been criticised by politicians and Jewish representatives for showing a lax approach to policing hate speech.

On Saturday, dozens could be seen chanting for an intifada revolution outside the entrance to Downing Street.

Women wearing medical scrubs were also filmed chanting slogans under an Iranian flag.

The flag of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iran-backed militia, was also carried by multiple protesters.

The group is thought to have been hit by the recent US air strikes in retaliation at the death in a drone attack of three American service personnel in Iraq.

Saturday’s demonstration was organised by a coalition including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al Aqsa, Stop the War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain.

It follows a spat with police in which organisers say they were initially prevented from concluding their march outside Whitehall.

The Met eventually gave permission, however they withheld permission for a second stage of the march in Trafalgar Square.

Organisers have said that the decision presents a risk to safety.

However, Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Ward said on Thursday that allowing the Trafalgar Square leg “would have caused serious disruption”.

“To avoid Trafalgar Square becoming too full, we have agreed to just one stage for speakers in Whitehall,” he said.

Scotland Yard estimated around 10,000 demonstrators had marched through the West End of London, with the crowd swelling to 20,000 for the speeches in Whitehall.

Demonstrators carried banners which read “end the killing” that were accompanied by images of the bloodshed since the conflict erupted.

Other banners declared “free the children”, “freedom to Palestine” and “Boycott Israel”.

Ahead of the march, the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Tomorrow, London will once again become a no-go zone for Jews as yet another anti-Israel demonstration takes place.

“How much more must this country endure before proper action is taken.”

Police have made arrests at the various marches, including at an event in December when they were surrounded by protesters in London.

Earlier in the month, 13 were arrested at a march, mostly for offensive placards.

Leaflets distributed at Saturday’s march included the headline: “Zionist Holocaust backed by the West, aping Hitler.”

Army fails to meet recruitment targets at all training centres for five years

The Army has failed to meet its recruitment targets at all training centres for the past five years, the Ministry of Defence has revealed…

Clapham chemical attack latest: Footage of police raid in hunt for suspect released

New footage has been released of police raiding a house in the hunt for the suspected chemical attacker Abdul Ezedi. 

Footage shows officers entering the residence in Newcastle and moving from room to room searching for Ezedi.

The Met said it had received “dozens of calls” and reports of “possible sightings” in relation to the investigation as it issued a fresh appeal for information.

Searches of five addresses in east London and Newcastle revealed empty containers with corrosive warnings on the labels. Forensic tests are now underway to see if the substances match those used in Wednesday’s attack in Clapham. 

Commander Jon Savell said: “We have received dozens of calls with information, including possible sightings, and every single piece of information has been recorded and forms part of our ongoing investigation.”

Watch: Machete-wielding youths clash in Nottingham city centre

Police are looking for three youths seen brandishing machetes at each other in the early afternoon in Nottingham city centre.

Video footage circulating on social media shows the confrontation outside the Nottingham Contemporary gallery shortly after midday on Friday.

The clash left one employee at the gallery “scared for my life”.

Three people in the 30-second video can be seen holding what appear to be large blades and are wearing dark clothing with their hoods raised.

One member of the group can be seen putting the weapon back into a sheath.

A woman can also be seen in the clip, apparently attempting to disperse the group.

They eventually run away down some steps.

A gallery worker told the BBC: “They were wielding knives at each other, and a lady tried to stop them.”

They added: “Everyone ran away. I locked the door of the [venue], the Contemporary locked the door.”

The employee said the reported incident started at around 12.30pm, adding: “I was scared for my life. We were lucky we had no customers in.”

Nottinghamshire Police said it conducted an “extensive” search of the area, but the suspects had left.

No injuries were reported, according to the police, and additional high-visibility reassurance patrols have been in place since the incident.

Ch Insp Karl Thomas, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “I have seen the footage of this incident and share the same sense of revulsion that other viewers will feel.

“Detectives are investigating what happened as a matter of urgency and are working at speed to identify all the young people involved.”

Officers have released CCTV images of people they wish to trace as part of their investigation.

Ch Insp Thomas added: “I urge anyone who recognises them to get in touch [with Nottinghamshire Police] as soon as possible. Although incidents of this nature are rare, we fully understand the concern they cause in the community. I want to reassure everybody about just how seriously we are treating this incident.”

Jail for protesters who climb on war memorials

Protesters who climb on war memorials face prison and a £1,000 fine under a crackdown in the wake of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, ministers will announce this week.

Perpetrators will face three-month sentences and a fine under a legal change which James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, said would punish those intent on “insulting those who paid the ultimate price for their freedom to protest”.

Last November, footage of pro-Palestinian demonstrators clambering on the Royal Artillery Memorial in London sparked widespread outrage, with Rishi Sunak describing it as “affront to our Armed Forces”.

Mr Cleverly, who is a Royal Artillery reservist, said at the time that it was “clearly wrong” and “deeply disrespectful”.

However, the incident did not result in arrests, with the individuals allowed to go on their way after coming down from the monument.

Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that his officers were unable to take action because while it was “unfortunate” and “inflammatory in certain ways”, it was not against the law.

Defending his officers, he said: “That’s the nature of policing. It’s contentious. What the officer didn’t do was make up a law that it’s illegal to do something and make an arrest which would have been illegal, clearly.”

Following the case, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government would “look at what further measures are needed so that the police can have confidence in taking action on this”.

Now, under an amendment due to be introduced to the Criminal Justice Bill, climbing on war memorials will become a specific public order offence in England and Wales.

The change to the law will form part of a wider plan to be unveiled this week aimed at tackling disorder at protests.

‘Causing damage’

Mr Cleverly said: “Recent protests have seen a small minority dedicated to causing damage and insulting those who paid the ultimate price for their freedom to protest.

“Peaceful protest is fundamental in our county, but climbing on our war memorials is an insult to these monuments of remembrance and cannot continue.

“That is why I am giving police the powers they need to ensure they have the tools to keep order and peace on our streets.”

Tackling disruptive protests has risen up the agenda because of the mass demonstrations against Israel’s invasion of Gaza in response to the Oct 7 Hamas attack.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters descended on London for another pro-Palestine march.

Some marchers were filmed chanting “Yemen, Yemen make us proud, turn another ship round” in an apparent show of support for Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

Other demonstrators were photographed holding signs displaying anti-Semitic tropes, including one claiming that “our media, TV, radio and government are controlled by Zionists”.

Another sign claimed that “the BBC is an arm of the Zionist propaganda machine”.