As part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, Prime Minister David Cameron has asked the UK’s foremost defence chiefs and officials to consider investing more in Special Forces and readily deployable counter-terrorist capabilities. This would include future air surveillance (ISTAR) assets and encompass the deployment of more drones.
Following the commitment outlined in last week’s Budget to spend 2% of GDP on defence, the Prime Minister hopes the Strategic Defence and Security Review – due to conclude in the autumn – will prioritise resources that will help to protect the UK from evolving threats, whether those threats be in the form of terrorism, extremism or an increasingly aggressive Russia and also whether that threat is physical or cyber-focused.
The Prime Minister discussed his views with the defence chiefs last week in the wake of the Budget. Together, they agreed that the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence – rendering us one of only five nations to do so – and to meet the NATO Wales Summit pledge strengthens the UK’s role as a leading player in the Transatlantic Alliance.
The Prime Minister is set to visit RAF Waddington – home to the UK’s aforementioned ISTAR force from where Reaper missions are flown over Iraq and Syria.
The UK is already a leading country in the counter-ISIL coalition comprised of 60-plus nations. With investment in high-end surveillance – such as Sentinel, Rivet Joint and RAPTOR pods on fast jets – the UK already holds a significant advantage over most other countries’ capabilities.
Tornados and Reapers alone have flown over 1,000 missions and struck more than 300 ISIL targets. The UK is doing more than that, though. Air-to-air refuelling and other sophisticated airborne assets play a vital role in enabling other nations to conduct strikes that they would otherwise be unable to consider on their own.
In order to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the fight against extremism, it’s important to continue investing in this area.
The Prime Minister will also welcome some of the ship’s company of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to Downing Street.
Countering the threat posed by ISIL and Islamist extremism
David Cameron is keen for the Strategic Defence and Security Review to explore how best to work with partners like the US to ensure these ships – the largest British warships ever built – are able to project drones, Special Forces and strike capabilities to wherever the terrorist threat may be found.
Cameron explained: “As Prime Minister, I will always put the national security of our country first. That’s why it’s right that we spend 2% of our GDP on defence because this investment helps to keep us safe. It has only been possible because of the difficult decisions we have made to ensure a strong and secure economy.”
The Prime Minister continued: “Now that we know how much money we will spend, what matters next is how we spend it. I have tasked the defence and security chiefs to look specifically at how we do more to counter the threat posed by ISIL and Islamist extremism. This could include more spy planes, drones and Special Forces. In the last five years, I’ve seen just how vital these assets are when it comes to keeping us safe.”
The Strategic Defence and Security Review now underway will look at the Government’s defence and security investment priorities, ensuring the UK has the military and other capabilities needed to tackle today’s threats in a faster and better way, and that the UK is even more agile and adaptable when responding to those threats.
Whether training in Kurdistan, supporting Iraqi ground forces from the air or preparing the Syrian moderate opposition to lead the fight in Syria, the UK continues to play a leading role in international coalition efforts designed to tackle the threat posed by the ISIL terrorist organisation.
On Wednesday 10 June, an RAF Reaper remotely piloted aircraft patrolling near Iraq’s border with Syria destroyed an ISIL vehicle. On Thursday 11 June, two Tornado GR4s provided close air support to advancing peshmerga near Sinjar who had come under fire from an ISIL sniper team located in an isolated building. This was demolished by a direct hit from a Paveway. The GR4s then flew south to assist the Iraqi army near Ar Rutbah, where they used a Brimstone missile to destroy a terrorist armoured personnel carrier.
Military instructors continue to work with coalition partners in delivering training to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces; British trainers have played a prominent role in assisting the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq, and the UK is taking the lead in designing a country-wide programme for the coalition to provide training and equipment to help reduce the threat from the improvised explosive devices (IED) which are increasingly favoured by the terrorists as they’re forced onto the defensive.
The Kurdish peshmerga have liberated significant swathes of territory in northern Iraq from ISIL control, including key towns such as Rabiyah and Zumar, and rescued the Yazidi refugees who were besieged on Mount Sinjar. A recent offensive, which RAF and other coalition aircraft supported, succeeded in driving back the terrorists to the west of Kirkuk. In this area are a number of villages from which ISIL have driven out the civilian population and the deserted villages have then been transformed into large fortified strongholds and terrorist training camps. Several of these have already been targeted by coalition aircraft and overrun by the peshmerga.
A large co-ordinated operation on Friday 12 June focused on a location behind the current front line, west of Kirkuk and north of Bayji. Extensive reconnaissance allowed a large number of terrorist targets to be identified inside the perimeter of the complex.
Careful planning permitted a number of coalition aircraft – among them RAF Tornado GR4s which dropped ten Paveway IV precision guided bombs – to conduct a co-ordinated air strike on these key targets and disrupt ISIL efforts to recover from the successful peshmerga offensives to the north and Iraqi army operations around Bayji and Tikrit to the south.
Statement on the Tenth Anniversary of 7/7
Last week, David Cameron made a statement on the Tenth Anniversary of the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
“Today, the country comes together to remember the victims of one of the deadliest terrorist atrocities on mainland Britain,” stated the Prime Minister.
“Ten years on from the 7/7 London attacks, the threat from terrorism continues to be as real as it is deadly. The murder of 30 innocent Britons while they were holidaying in Tunisia is a brutal reminder of that fact, but we will never be cowed by terrorism.
“We will keep on doing all that we can to make sure the British public is safe, protecting vulnerable young minds from others’ extremist beliefs and promoting the shared values of tolerance, love and respect. The values that make Britain so great.”