Brecon Beacons TA deaths are a blow for government amid defence cuts

Reservists’ deaths come at a time when ministers are trying to significantly increase number and role of volunteer force

Two servicemen die on training exercise in Brecon Beacons

The deaths of the two Territorial Army members comes at a time when the government is trying to significantly increase the number of reservists and revamp the role of the volunteer force.

Over the next 10 years it is aiming to boost the number of TA members from 19,000 to 30,000 in order to make up for the loss of regular service personnel forced by defence cuts.

TA soldiers have to commit to a minimum of 19 or 27 days a year depending on their role. Most training takes place at evenings and weekends, and there is a two-week annual camp.

A new recruit receives £35.04 for a full day, rising to £43.54 after basic training. In addition TA members receive an annual tax-free sum known as a bounty, which starts at £424 for the first year and increases annually after that. Travel to units and food is subsidised, while kit is free.

Like regular soldiers, TA members learn how to handle and fire a weapon. They are instructed on how to live and look after themselves while living in the outdoors for extended periods.

Each unit has its own physical training instructor who advises on fitness, sport and general health and nutrition.

The SAS (Special Air Service) Reserves comprises two regiments: 21 SAS(R) and 23 SAS(R), formed in 1947 and 1959 respectively.

It accepts male volunteers with no previous military experience between the ages of 18 and 33, and those who have been in the regular or reserve forces up to the age of 35.

The selection course for potential SAS reservists takes place twice a year. It has two stages: aptitude and continuation.

Aptitude is described as a “progressively arduous phase”. To stand any chance of success candidates must be very fit at the start of the course.

The selection course is designed to pinpoint candidates who are physically and mentally robust, self-confident, self-disciplined, able to work alone and able to assimilate information and new skills.

The aptitude test is understood to culminate with a 40-mile (64km) march carrying a pack weighing around 60lb (27kg). Sources who have knowledge of the test say that though it is carefully planned, candidates are given more autonomy and less guidance than they would in regular units. Only around one in 10 are thought to pass the test.

If candidates pass the aptitude stage they are required to undertake “continuation training”, an intensive period of instruction and assessment on special forces tactics and techniques. They are expected to learn new skills while being placed under physical and mental pressure.

The commitment is huge. Continuation takes place over a series of weekends and blocks of training totalling around 80 days over 12 months.

Within 12 months of completing selection, candidates enter a period of probation that requires the completion of parachute and communication courses, after which those …read more  

TA soldiers aren't alone in brushing with danger in the Brecon Beacons | Simon Jenkins

The death of two TA soldiers puts heat training in question – but many others seek an escape from health-and-safety drudgery

Don’t mess with the Brecon Beacons. The trek over at nearly 3,000 feet is freezing in winter and punishingly hot in summer. The sweeping combes and sudden drops are deceptive to the unwary and getting out is not easy. The training offered by the Beacons has made them a natural base for the SAS. Thousands of soldiers use these mountains each year. Just occasionally someone dies.

The deaths at the weekend of two Territorial Army soldiers must raise questions over the modern army’s obsession with physical machismo, even if this exercise was, as reported, a selection for the SAS. Heat training is supposedly important for special forces. That must be in part due to the fixation of recent British governments with intervening in the hottest places on earth, places whose role in the security of the United Kingdom is wholly obscure.

Yet it is not only soldiers who are attracted to test themselves in these dangerous places. Any walker on the Beacons knows the familiar lines of altitude runners, triathletes, adventure vacationers and company bonders, all taking serious risks in the hope of physical (and perhaps corporate) improvement. The search for a brush with danger is not confined to Africa and Asia, where adventure tourism is booming and danger is part of the attraction.

The coast and countryside of Britain are a welcome resource for those whose leisure needs are not met by a distant, sunny beach. Sea kayaking, wild swimming, rock climbing, mountain biking and hang gliding are hugely popular pastimes. For many they answer a craving to escape the “health-and-safety” drudgery of city life. They seek not just nature but the chance of a brush with danger. Sometimes that danger proves to be more than just a brush. But it would be pointless, indeed self-defeating, to seek to eliminate it. People will seek risk, danger, adventure elsewhere.

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Two servicemen die on training exercise in Brecon Beacons

Ministry of Defence and police investigate deaths of two military personnel on hottest day of year

Two military personnel have died during a training exercise, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The servicemen were on a routine exercise on Saturday in the Brecon Beacons, and the incident is being investigated by Dyfed Powys police as well as the MoD.

A spokesman said: “The MoD can confirm that it is working with Dyfed Powys police to investigate an incident during a training exercise on the Brecon Beacons on Saturday in which two members of military personnel died.

“The two servicemen’s next of kin have been informed. More information will be released in due course but it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage. Any further inquiries should be referred to Dyfed Powys police.”

Saturday was the hottest day of the year for many parts of the country, and temperatures in Usk in nearby Monmouthshire, south Wales, reached 29.2C (84.5F).

A source said: “It is a case of the people succumbing to being affected by the training that they were doing.”

The military uses the Brecon Beacons for a wide range of exercises for various army personnel.

The Infantry Battle School (IBS) is based at Brecon and the tough, demanding landscape is used to put regular and special forces soldiers through their paces.

The army website says the Brecon Beacons are used because they are so demanding and prepare soldiers for the “extraordinary things” they have to do on deployment.

The website says: “Training for high-intensity, light-role war fighting is the way soldiers and officers are prepared for any operational situation they may face – conventional war, counter insurgency, security sector reform, peacekeeping or supporting civil authorities.

“Training at IBS is delivered here by high-quality instructors with a wealth of operational experience, and rated in the top third of the infantry.

“This ensures that the training is as close to current operations and pre-deployment training as possible, whilst maintaining the ability to train for high-intensity war fighting.

“IBS delivers competent and confident commanders for the field army by running command and leadership training, infantry tactics training, weapons training, and live firing-range qualifications. It also provides specialist training teams to assist foreign forces in their development, and allocates some places on courses for overseas students.”

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24/7 nuclear shield is in doubt as alternatives to Trident are examined

MPs to be given range of alternatives to keeping nuclear-armed submarine on continuous patrol

Britain could lose its continuous nuclear deterrence programme under a scenario that has been outlined in a government-commissioned report examining alternatives to Trident.

The report, to be published on Tuesday, is expected to discuss a range of alternatives to the current system under which a submarine armed with nuclear warheads is at sea and ready to be deployed at all times. It provides explicit detail on the costs associated with Britain’s commitment to nuclear weapons and is expected to be the subject of a parliamentary debate on Wednesday.

Although it does not make any recommendations, the scenarios it outlines are likely to ignite a political row. The Conservatives are fully committed to Trident but the Liberal Democrats are opposed. Labour has pledged to study the contents of the report before outlining its position.However, while the Tories will seek to dismiss its importance, the report will help frame the debate about Britain’s long-term nuclear weapons capabilities in the runup to the general election. It is likely that Trident would become a political bargaining chip in any power-sharing deal between Labour and the Lib Dems.

Any diminution of Britain’s capabilities would be a major shift in policy that has been entrenched since the cold war. The current nuclear deterrence system involves four submarines on permanent rotation with one at sea at all times. Four is considered the minimum number of submarines needed to maintain a continuous presence at sea. But the report has examined alternative options, including the use of ships or planes. However, none of these options, known as “postures” in military circles, is considered viable. There is also the added complication that the government has already made financial commitments to develop the next generation of nuclear submarines. Instead the report will suggest one potential posture could be to reduce the number of submarines from four to two or three. This would mean an end to continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence.

Anti-nuclear campaigners would welcome any move to cut the UK’s nuclear weapons programme. “It seems highly likely that the report will highlight that there are alternatives to ‘like-for-like’ replacement of Trident and that the UK’s security does not require keeping a nuclear-armed submarine at sea at all times,” said Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service. “By taking Trident off permanent patrol, the UK now has an opportunity to make a decisive move which would dramatically boost our international status as a global leader and, as the US’s closest ally, signal our firm support for President Obama’s international arms control agenda.”

Nick Harvey, the Lib Dem MP and former defence minister who initiated the report, said it would send clear signals to the rest of the world if the UK scaled back its nuclear weapons capabilities. “If the UK, as one of the five original nuclear powers, were to do this, it would give fresh encouragement to non-proliferation,” Harvey said.

An increasing number of high-profile politicians have questioned the UK’s commitment to …read more  

Faslane: this was a nuclear weapon for the SNP

The rumoured plans for the naval base were a reminder of how deeply unpopular Trident is among Scots

The MoD’s, or Whitehall’s, or whoever’s plans to designate Trident’s Faslane base “sovereign UK territory” earlier this week seemed, at best, petty – an attempt at humiliation timed to balance Andy Murray’s cheering victory. It was a gift to the SNP, now denied and passed from hand to hand like a vomiting baby. That the idea was ever floated offers us another reminder of the colonial attitudes so catastrophically embedded in nuclear policy; a fundamental, fatal dismissal of “ordinary” people.

Once, it was relatively easy to acquire a colony if you had access to industrialised military production when the people you were invading didn’t. But by the end of the 19th century there was nowhere desirable left to steal, and industrialised armies finally faced each other. The results were intolerable: massive national debt and casualties that could mount by tens of thousands a day.

But then, in the 1920s, Britain’s airforce successfully bombed undefended Iraqi villages into quiescence. Italy followed suit in Ethiopia, and Germany in Spain. The age of “intimidation by bomb” was born, and with it the dream that killing a high enough percentage of a civilian population from the air would destroy a country and win a war with low military casualties.

“Bomber” Harris, who served with the British air force in Iraq, went on to lead RAF Bomber Command in the second world war. He led a remarkable body of men into a moral vacuum, area-bombing cities, creating firestorms, killing civilians en masse. Vital targets like ball bearing factories and petrol plants didn’t attract him. Railway routes into concentration camps were left intact. Harris aimed to discover the percentage of German civilians he had to kill in order to break the nation.His actions tainted the reputation of bomber command, and may have prolonged the war.

Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, was equally beguiled by the idea that ordinary people would crack under bombing. Early in the war he largely halted raids against the RAF and moved on to bombing cities – helping to lose the war for Hitler.

In the second world war civilians of all nations often behaved extraordinarily under bombing pressure. They didn’t break. Conventional, costly combat brought victory. But there was another option, tested in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons had the potential to destroy utterly. They offered the prospect of no survivors, no resistance, no revenge – only a wilderness that would be peace.

The UK’s military were highly ambivalent about acquiring nuclear weapons, not least because they could not be launched without US permission. Nuclear bases on British soil have always been de facto US bases and we pay US firms for provision and maintenance. But politicians wanted them. Being a nuclear power is almost as good as still having an empire.

Trident, the UK’s current nuclear weapon system, is in Scotland because London isn’t. That’s …read more