Category: Published Articles

Choir of Heroes has a gig with Harry

The choirmaster Gareth Malone is planning to recruit wounded military veterans to sing at Prince Harry’s Invictus Games in Florida.

The progress of the Choir for Heroes will be followed in two BBC television programmes to coincide with the games in May.

This is expected to be the biggest international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick military personnel, attracting more than 500 competitors in 10 sports including archery and wheelchair rugby.

Read my story on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required to read the full story)

Britain plots bombing of Isis in Libya

 

A team of British military and intelligence officers last week undertook a secret reconnaissance mission to Libya to plan RAF airstrikes against Isis militants in the strife-torn north African state.

Six RAF officers flew to an airbase in eastern Libya, controlled by pro-western militia forces, along with a group of MI6 operatives, diplomats from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and US and French military personnel.

Their mission, near the coastal city of Tobruk, was to build up intelligence on the location of Isis fighters and draw up potential targets for possible British and coalition airstrikes.

Read my full story (written with Mark Hookham) on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required)

RAF to launch Top Gun unit

Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

The RAF is to set up an elite Top Gun-style squadron to hone the dogfighting skills of its fighter pilots.

After two decades of mainly carrying out bombing missions against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders have decided pilots need to boost their aerial combat skills to counter any potential threat from new Russian fighters that patrol Syria and eastern Europe.

The move is part of the expansion of the RAF’s fleet of Typhoon jets, from five to seven squadrons, announced last November.

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Key British role in Iraqi victory

Royal Artillery has joined the ground war against Isis by directing strikes against the terror group in Iraq as it emerges that a forward operating base has been built for the SAS and other troops.

British army personnel played a key role in the recent battle to recapture Ramadi, identifying Isis targets and directing devastating airstrikes.

The details of Britain’s deepening involvement in the conflict emerged as Brigadier James Learmont, a UK artillery officer and deputy commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, declared that Isis had been “significantly and seriously weakened” by its defence of Ramadi.

The city was largely recaptured by Iraqi forces last week, although large areas were reduced to rubble and pockets of Isis fighters remain on the outskirts.

Read my article (written with Mark Hookham) on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full article)

Drone jammers to guard top events

Sophisticated drone-jamming technology is to be deployed at major public and sporting events in the UK following a successful trial at last month’s Remembrance Sunday parade.

In the first example of such technology being used to police a public event in the UK, a radar device was installed on the roof of New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan police, close to Whitehall, where the commemoration took place.

The equipment, made by a consortium of British firms and a more advanced version of the kit used by some celebrities to protect their privacy, is capable of detecting, tracking and disrupting the controls of any rogue drones flown remotely by terrorists as airborne weapons.

• Read my article (written with John Harlow and Mark Hookham) on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Ministry of Defence warns Enemies will outgun UK within 20 years

MoD Take Advice from Dalek CartoonBritain’s military may be unable to cope with the weaponry of foreign powers and even terrorist groups within 20 years, a report by the Ministry of Defence (has warned.

The study, written by the MoD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, an internal think tank based at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, admits that “our key [weapons] systems may be vulnerable to technical exploitation or capability overmatch”.

The conclusions in the paper, which was quietly published on the MoD website earlier this month, may raise questions about the long-term effectiveness of the UK’s military technology, including its two new aircraft carriers and a planned new generation of nuclear submarines, as well as its ability to engage in a “full spectrum” of operations, from counter- insurgency to conventional battles.

• Read my article on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Royal Navy ignored warning of Iranian attack

HMS Cornwall (F 99) transits through the Persian Gulf in 2007. Photo: US Navy

HMS Cornwall (F 99) transits through the Persian Gulf in 2007. Photo: US Navy

Navy top brass failed to act on warnings of Iranian aggression, leaving British sailors vulnerable to a surprise attack that resulted in 15 of them being taken hostage in Tehran, according to a secret report.

The incident in March 2007 was described at the time as a “national embarrassment” after sailors from HMS Cornwall were paraded on Iranian television and then the Ministry of Defence allowed the returning prisoners to sell their stories to a tabloid newspaper.

During their captivity the sailors, including the first British servicewoman to be captured since the Second World War, were forced to make propaganda statements on Iranian television.

• Read my article on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Royals fly free of cuts to get new jets

The RAF is planning to spend millions of pounds on a new fleet of executive jets dedicated to flying the royal family, government ministers and military top brass on trips overseas.

Overlooked in last week’s defence review is a controversial plan to replace four BAe 146 jets that make up the so-called “royal flight”, which is provided by the RAF’s 32 (the Royal) Squadron.

RAF sources say that with a range of only 1,800 miles, the existing four-engined aircraft are unable to fly across the Atlantic and need to be refuelled too often when flying beyond Europe. A trip to Dubai needs one refuelling stop, while a trip to Delhi requires two.

• Read my article on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Ministry of Defence sinks £2bn sub-hunter jet deal

A P8 Poseidon. Image: Boeing

A P8 Poseidon. Image: Boeing

Britain’s Ministry of Defence is understood to have dropped a £2bn plan to buy a fleet of US-made submarine-hunting jets for the Royal Air Force.

The proposed purchase of up to nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft was expected to be the centrepiece of the government’s forthcoming defence review, but sources say the project has been shelved after ministers decided the aircraft were “fiendishly expensive”.

The move has raised fears that Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear deterrent submarines and the navy’s new £6bn aircraft carriers could be inadequately protected.

Senior retired RAF officers argued earlier this year that Britain’s nuclear deterrent has been left vulnerable after plans to update a fleet of Nimrod submarine-hunting aircraft were axed in 2010.

• Read my article on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Chinese ‘spy’ tried to get into Queen’s coach

British and Chinese security engaged in a tense stand-off during the state visit of President Xi Jinping after a Beijing-based “spy” tried to get too close to the Queen.

The Chinese official was intercepted by members of the diplomatic protection squad when he posed as an official interpreter, according to documents circulating in Whitehall.

British officials believe the Chinese agent wanted to join Xi and the Queen in her royal carriage. When the ruse was rumbled it led to heated exchanges, according to three senior figures who confirmed details of the incident.

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