A Westminster Hall debate on ‘Wales's contribution to the UK armed forces’ has been scheduled for Tuesday 25 February 2020 at 4.30pm. The debate has been initiated by Fay Jones MP.

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The Welsh Affairs Committee published a report on the Armed Forces and Defence Industry in Wales on 4 November 2019. The Committee said:

The UK Government should ensure that Wales has a fair share of military presence, broadly in proportion to its population. It should provide certainty about any proposed changes to the location of units and minimise the impact on the Welsh economy and local communities.

There are 3,230 military and civilian personnel based in Wales and over 60 Ministry of Defence establishments and bases, including reserve centres and the training estate.

The defence footprint

The Army has the largest presence of the three services with 1,450 personnel. HQ Wales and HQ 160th Infantry Brigade are based at Brecon, home to the Infantry battle school. There are no infantry units based in Wales although 1st Battalion The Rifles is based just across the border in Beachley Barracks in Chepstow. None of the regular units of what are considered the Welsh combat units are based in Wales: the Welsh Guards, who describe themselves as Wales’s senior infantry regiment, are based in Surrey, the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh are in Wiltshire while the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards are near Norwich.  There are a number of Army Reserve units in Wales. The Welsh Regiments held a reception for MPs in Portcullis House on 12 February 2020.

The RAF conducts operational low flying training and fast-jet pilot training from RAF Valley in Anglesey.

The Royal Navy has the smallest presence of the three services.

Sennybridge near Powys is the third largest military training area in the UK.

The MOD intends to close Cawdor Barracks and Brecon Barracks, two of the main Army bases in Wales, in 2024 and 2027 as part of wider plans to reduce the military footprint across the UK. The infantry battle school in Brecon will not be closing. The MOD also plans to relocate some units from Wales.

The future military use of MOD St Athan has been an issue for years. The MOD is seeking to retain a military presence at St Athan, currently home to No.4 School of Technical Training, and is in discussions with the Welsh Government, which is developing the site as an aviation business park. The MOD said in September 2019 that the future “location and timeframe to relocate No.4 School of Technical Training at MOD St Athan has not been finalised and is subject to further assessment.”

The Welsh Government expressed concern about the wider impact of the proposed closures in a written statement in December 2018. Alun Davies, the then Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services for the Welsh Government, said:

The Welsh Identity within the Armed Forces is an essential part of our national identity. It is of central importance to the future of our Union that our Armed Forces are based in all constitute parts of the UK and that all our nations are able to play their part in defending the UK and all our nations are represented in the decisions over bases and the MoD’s wider estates strategy.

The Welsh Affairs Committee’s main findings and recommendations to the UK Government are:

  • The UK Government should work with the Welsh Government to ensure that base closures do not result in a reduction of the defence footprint in Wales.
  • Decisions about the relocation of regiments currently based in Wales must be confirmed very soon, and the possibility of relocating at least one of the Welsh combat units from England to Wales should be explored.
  • The UK and Welsh Governments must urgently provide clarity about future plans for MOD St Athan, and reverse the decision to relocate the RAF Training School.

Defence expenditure and industry

The MOD spent £1,086 million with Welsh defence industry and commerce in FY2018/19 and supported an estimated 7,700 jobs. MOD regional expenditure figures published on 30 January 2020 show an 11% rise in expenditure a 22% rise in jobs supported from MOD expenditure in Wales from 2017/18 to 2018/19. The MOD attributes this in part to increased expenditure on military flight training and Ajax armoured vehicles. The MOD spends £350 per person in Wales, third only to the South West and South East (Scotland is fourth). The MOD says it does not hold figures relating to R&D spend in the regions.

The MOD told the Welsh Affairs Committee in written evidence:

There is no agreed minimum or maximum spend on personnel and bases in the Devolved Nations. Defence decisions are taken on the basis is what is best for Defence and security of the whole of the UK but we also recognise the differing impacts in the nations that make up the UK.

Ajax will equip the Army’s new strike brigades, alongside the Boxer mechanised infantry vehicle. Ajax will be assembled in Wales at General Dynamics plant in Merthyr Tydfil. This is a £4.5bn programme for a family of 589 tracked armoured vehicles which are expected to enter service from 2020 to 2025.

The Government-owned Defence Electronics & Components Agency (DECA) at MOD Sealand in North Wales will be a global repair hub for F-35 (Lightning) aircraft. It will provide maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 avionics and aircraft components. Qioptiq was awarded an £82m contract for surveillance and targeting equipment (weapon sights, night vision goggles) in January 2019.

The Welsh Affairs Committee described the defence industry in Wales as successful but called on the Government to make the bidding process for contracts less complex and to ensure “any decisions about the wider defence footprint do not impact negatively on any projects awarded to business and supply chains in Wales”.

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