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Some military personnel forced to use food banks as inflation tips members of Armed Forces into crisis | UK News

Some military personnel and their families have been forced to use food banks as high inflation and rising costs tip members of the Armed Forces into crisis, Sky News can reveal.

An unofficial food bank even exists at a large Royal Air Force base in Lincolnshire, a defence source said.

The voluntary facility at RAF Coningsby – home to Typhoon fast jet squadrons – was set up by an aviator to collect food donations from servicemen and women to support civilians in their local community. But the source claimed it is now being used by RAF personnel too.

The food bank serves civilians in the local community. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby
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The food bank serves civilians in the local community. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby

Internal RAF documents seen by Sky News – as well as interviews with military sources and charities – offer a sense of the wider impact of the cost of living crisis on defence, including:

• The need for a number of service personnel to choose between “food or fuel”, with some unable to afford to drive home from their base to see family

• One aviator, a single mother, was forced to go without a hot meal for four days because she had spent her last money on baby milk formula

• The volume of enquiries to a key charity from or on behalf of military personnel seeking financial support has more than doubled

• There are individuals who can no longer even afford the price of the subsidised meals at their mess

• A sense of “discontent” at covering for striking public sector workers on better pay deals when the Armed Forces are not permitted to take industrial action themselves

While the documents referred to the situation inside the RAF, a Royal Navy source and an Army source said personnel in their respective services were also experiencing hardships.

The Royal Navy source said the Ministry of Defence was trying to do more to help, such as support with childcare costs.

“But I suspect more needs to be done,” the source said.

“I’m hearing … stories of sailors unable to head home at weekends or over leave periods due to travel costs, also service personnel using food banks or contacting service charities for assistance with debt management.”

The RAF says the food bank was not set up for its personnel. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby
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The RAF says the food bank was not set up for its personnel. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby

‘The food bank is popular’

The UK provides its Armed Forces with a range of specific benefits such as access to subsidised housing and meals – as well as fuel grants in a bid to keep the offer to join the Army, Navy and RAF attractive and to retain talent.

The support is also in recognition of the particular hardships and inconveniences of military life, and the fact that anyone who serves has to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Yet analysis of morale across the whole of the RAF last year by military chaplains revealed that a limited number of personnel were resorting to food banks in the local areas.

An anonymous quote in the report read: “The food bank is popular.”

This was qualified with a footnote that warned: “Food bank use is reported across a majority of units, but nowhere is yet reporting widespread use”.

It continued: “Single figures per unit of families utilising food banks is a working estimate.”

The airbases RAF Benson in South Oxfordshire and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire “are reporting the highest use of food banks”, according to the footnote in the report, which was entitled Chaplaincy Analysis of Whole Force Morale 2022 and dated 12 January 2023.

Overall, the report found that cost of living pressures as well as failings with military accommodation – such as faulty heating and vermin – were the biggest factors “adversely impacting” morale.

Drop-off points for donations have been set up at RAF Coningsby. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby
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Drop-off points for donations have been set up at RAF Coningsby. Pic: Destiny Outreach Coningsby

Separately, the defence source with knowledge of the food bank at RAF Coningsby claimed that service personnel had been using the facility “extensively”.

Asked how they felt about this, the source said: “Incredibly angry and frustrated that we had got to the point where service personnel had to rely on charitable agencies just to exist.”

A junior non-commissioned officer established the food bank – which has its own Facebook page – a couple of years ago to support the local civilian community, having been involved with this kind of charitable activity while posted overseas in the US.

According to the Facebook page, the food bank is run by a Christian group called Destiny Outreach Coningsby. It says it offers support to people living in the town of Coningsby and the surrounding villages.

“With the cost of living rising, please look out for one another. If you are in need of a food parcel then please contact us,” it said.

An RAF spokesperson made clear that the food bank was not set up by the RAF for its personnel. However, the spokesperson did not offer a comment on the record about the claim that serving aviators were using the facility.

The Ministry of Defence is understood to regard any use of food banks by military personnel as a “private life matter” and does not have any data to support claims of their alleged use.

However, officials at RAF Coningsby raised concern with Air Command last July about “a worrying increase in personnel seeking assistance and support across all welfare pillars as a direct result of the cost of living crisis”.

The warning was contained in a report, dated 22 July 2022, which was entitled Cost of Living Crisis – RAF Coningsby.

It mentioned the establishment of the food bank.

The report drew on information gathered from the experiences of four focus groups of about 150 personnel and families over a one-week period.

It listed several trends, including “pers [personnel] struggling to afford fuel to drive to work; … pers unable to travel home each week and having to stay on unit, reducing morale and wellbeing; real concern for the winter months where electricity and gas costs will further exacerbate the current situation”.

The paper suggested ways the military could offer relief, such as by increasing the rate paid for fuel use. It noted: “Personnel were having to decide whether to buy food or fuel.”

Armed Forces pay ‘an annual gamble’

The documents and defence sources said pay is another factor creating pressure for the military, especially given soaring inflation.

The chaplaincy analysis talked about a “sense of looming discontent” as service personnel may be called upon to fill in for public sector workers who are striking for better wages.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body, an independent entity, makes a recommendation each year to the government on any pay increases for the military, which the Ministry of Defence draws upon before making its announcement on what the amount will be.

This should happen before the start of each financial year but is often delayed and any increase in salary is backdated to the beginning of April.

The Ministry of Defence has yet to announce this year’s settlement, though the pay review body has submitted its recommendations and an announcement is expected soon.

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‘If my economic policies fail it’s on me’

One RAF aviator described the process as “an annual gamble on what we may or may not receive”.

Asked what message they had for the government, the aviator said: “Understand that your military deserves to be fairly compensated for the role they play in support of the UK on all fronts … We see through the words and false promises and expect to be treated fairly in return for our commitment to the crown and our country.”

Sarah Atherton MP, an Army veteran and member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said the government should give the military a 10% pay rise in line with inflation.

“We’ve never had such an unstable global security situation, and we need our Armed Forces to protect us when we want them to protect us,” she told Sky News in an interview.

“We need to make sure they are valued and they feel valued.”

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Do we have an inflation problem?

Stepping in to fill the void are military charities like the RAF Benevolent Fund.

It said enquiries about financial assistance from or on behalf of serving personnel more than doubled last year to 539 cases compared with 2021.

In response to questions about the cost of living and food banks, the RAF spokesman said: The food bank at RAF Coningsby was not set up by the RAF for its personnel, and the RAF offers a range of support, such as welfare officers who can offer financial advice and access to fuel grants and hardship funds provided by the RAF, and supporting charities and associations.

“More widely, defence has created a comprehensive package of support that includes the biggest pay increase in 20 years, freezing daily food costs, providing accommodation subsidies and saving up to £3,400 per child per year by extending wraparound childcare – this is in addition to wider cost of living support provided by the government.”

Last financial year, the government awarded service personnel up to the rank of one-star a 3.75% pay rise – described as the biggest percentage uplift in two decades. But inflation has since rocketed, with consumer prices in February jumping 10.4% from a year earlier.

Serving member of UK armed forces charged under Official Secrets Act | UK News

A serving member of the UK’s armed forces has been charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Thomas Newsome, 36, was arrested and detained on 18 April following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command.

He was charged on 21 April with offences contrary to section 2 and section 8 of the Official Secrets Act 1989.

Newsome has been remanded in police custody and is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today.

VR headsets and simulated sandbags – the armed forces using virtual worlds to rehearse wars | Science & Tech News

I’m watching as war breaks out in the Lake District.

Tensions have been escalating for months between blue forces from the south and red forces in the north over disputed territory around Kendall. Now a helicopter has been shot down and both sides are attacking.

It’s an exercise, of course. Not on a military training ground, but in a non-descript building on an airfield in Lancashire.

But the room I’m standing in is filled with people representing different branches of the armed forces, the RAF in flight simulators, infantry personnel in VR headsets crouching behind a wall of simulated sandbags, with surveillance drone and satellite intelligence teams in front of large video screens.

The military has been using computers to practice battles for decades. Flight simulators with realistic terrain to train pilots are the best example.

But what’s happening here is different.

It’s one of the first examples of what’s known as a Single Synthetic Environment – a “digital twin” of real-world 3-D terrain and airspace – being used to train the military.

Armed forces around the world are exploring the power of these virtual worlds in which to rehearse wars.

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‘We’re going to see a blurring of the physical and digital world’

“Historically the simulation and the simulator were together – we’ve separated those two,” said Lucy Walton, head of training at BAE Systems, which is developing the technology.

“It replicates the physics, it replicates the real world terrain and now we have one that everybody uses in the same central system.”

The concept may sound familiar – it’s the same technology used in massively multi-player online gaming environments (MMOGs) – and perhaps not surprisingly the people behind those games are involved here.

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“We’re going to see a blurring of the physical and the digital world,” says Mimi Keshani, co-founder of Hadean, a London-based software firm that has worked with companies like Minecraft to build their virtual worlds.

“You’ve got a huge amount of complexities to manage, and different levels of fidelity from different people interacting. So in this system, we’ve got people in Typhoons and assets flying above the ground, we’ve got land forces. All of them need to see different things, but they need to see it in a common operating picture.”

The system has 60,000 AI ‘entities’

The system exploits massive improvements in the speed and power of cloud-based computing, as well as machine learning and AI software.

On top of the military forces involved in the exercise, the environment has “layers” like weather systems added on top. One crucial element typically missing from large-scale military training exercises are civilians.

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Is the British Army up to scratch?

This experimental system has 60,000 AI “entities” each representing a civilian in the virtual environment that responds to the actions taken by the military.

The potential advantage to the military is obvious.

In a time of limited defence budgets, training virtually and at scale can save millions in fuel, ammunition and personnel movements required for large scale military exercises. And the training isn’t limited to remote locations out of the way of towns and civilian airspace.

Nor is it vulnerable to the prying eyes of rival nations’ satellites.

Worries over pressures on budgets

“This allows us to train on a more frequent basis. So people don’t only get to go on large scale exercises once in an 11-year career, they could do this every week, if you wanted to,” says Ms Walton.

But there are concerns that as the technology continues to improve, blurring the lines even further between the real and the virtual world, that real-world military experience is lost.

Read more:
How much does the UK spend on defence?
VR creator says new headset can kill you if you lose in a game

The idea of bringing all branches of the armed forces together virtually to train is “very, very welcome,” according to Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of the Defence Select Committee.

“My worry is, because of pressures on budgets, that we will see the flight simulators, we will see these digital classrooms take over from getting out into the field and doing real-life experience in a battle group, regiment or brigade.”

An ever-expandable virtual environment may be ideal for training armed forces, but can it recreate the true conditions in which life-and-death decisions are made in combat?

China’s armed forces recruiting dozens of British ex military pilots in ‘threat to UK interests’ | UK News

China has recruited dozens of former British military pilots to teach the Chinese armed forces how to defeat western warplanes and helicopters in a “threat to UK interests”, officials have revealed.

One official said some 30 mainly ex-fast jet but also some helicopter pilots – lured by annual salaries of around £240,000 – are currently in China training pilots for the People’s Liberation Army, in what a defence analyst described as a stunning breach of security.

A retired senior Royal Air Force officer said: “Wow… that is appalling. What were they thinking?”

Beijing is actively trying to hire many more serving and former military pilots and other specialists from across the RAF, the Royal Navy and the British Army as well as personnel from other western nations, the western official said.

The situation is so grave, the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence service on Tuesday issued a “threat alert” to warn serving and former military personnel against such approaches.

China is using third-party head-hunters, including a company based in South Africa, to target personnel, the western official said.

The official named the company as the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, though stressed it had no connection with the South African government.

Sky News has contacted the firm to request a response to the allegation.

UK appears powerless to stop recruitment schemes

The western official said the recruitment schemes posed “a threat to UK and western interests” and were viewed with “concern and disapproval” by the government.

All British former service personnel, who have accepted jobs to train Chinese military pilots, “are almost certainly enhancing China’s military knowledge and capability,” the official said.

Despite the potential for harm to national security, the UK appears to have been powerless to stop the recruitment schemes or to force the former service personnel, who have accepted jobs in China, to return home – beyond appealing to them.

The official said it was not thought that anyone had breached the Official Secrets Act – which would be a criminal offence.

The Ministry of Defence said it was working to make it much harder for China to poach British military talent.

“We are taking measures to dissuade current and former pilots from being recruited, and we want to avoid any perception by China that our previous silence on this matter is misinterpreted as our acceptance or approval of this activity,” the western official said.

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China faces a ‘steep learning curve’ when it comes to possible military combat says the former director of operations at the Ministry of Defence.

‘It is certainly more than a trickle’

The spike in recruitment has been identified since around the end of 2019 at the start of the COVID lockdown.

Officials were unable to immediately say the total number of former British military personnel who had ever been hired to work for the Chinese.

They were also unable to give a figure for how many current and former personnel are actively being targeted right now, but said: “It is certainly more than just a trickle.”

No identities were given of the former British military pilots who are already working in China, but officials said a number of them were in their late 50s and had left the military a number of years ago.

“Without us taking action, this activity would almost certainly cause harm to the UK and our allies’ defence advantage,” the western official said.

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One expert says a US-China war is a risk that should be taken very seriously

What is China trying to achieve?

China is seeking pilots with long-experience of flying British and other NATO warplanes, including the Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets and the Harrier jump jet – which used to operate off British aircraft carriers, to teach its pilots how best to counter their capabilities, the western official said.

“It’s not training Chinese pilots on Western jets. It’s taking Western pilots of great experience to help develop Chinese military air force tactics and capabilities,” the official said.

“It’s really the Chinese having an understanding of what the latest generation of tactics and approaches and capabilities would be, were the Chinese military to get into situations coming up against those types of assets.”

This also included British military helicopters such as Wildcat and Merlin.

It is understood that China has attempted to recruit former pilots who have trained on the top secret, US-led fifth generation, F35 fast jet.

The official said it is thought such efforts had so far been unsuccessful. These aircraft – each one worth more than £100 million – use highly sensitive stealth technology developed jointly with the United States and are a prime espionage target.

A U.S.Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter jet
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A U.S.Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter jet

What is the UK doing to stop former pilots being recruited?

In a bid to make it harder for China to lure more pilots, the Ministry of Defence said efforts are underway to tighten security legislation and employment contracts.

“We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former UK Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” a spokesperson said.

“All serving and former personnel are already subject to the Official Secrets Act, and we are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements across Defence, while the new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges – including this one.”

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‘A rehearsal for war’

Francis Tusa, the defence analyst, called the revelations “gobsmacking”.

“Let’s be honest, China is an enemy,” Mr Tusa told Sky News.

“As such, we have got British subjects who have decided that their interests are best served by teaching our enemy how to defeat us. This is incredibly frightening.”

The revelations emerged as new legislation is being introduced to parliament on Tuesday to toughen the UK’s oversight of individuals and companies that work for hostile states or foreign entities and try to influence domestic politics.

As an amendment to the National Security Bill, the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme will require anyone who is hired by a foreign government to declare their activity or risk prosecution as part of efforts to clamp down on espionage and malign influence operations.

The head of MI5 said: “The UK is in strategic contest with states that seek to undermine our national security, democratic institutions and commercial advantage at an unprecedented scale. We need new, modern tools and powers to defend ourselves, proportionately but firmly.” 

Man shot dead by armed officers after entering police station car park with knife is named | UK News

A man who was shot dead by armed officers after entering a police station car park with a knife has been named as Marius Ciolac.

Mr Ciolac, 35, of Osmaston Road, Derby, was shot after police officers reported seeing him with the weapon in the secure car park of the station off Ascot Drive in Derby at 9.55am on Friday.

Armed officers were called and a police firearm was discharged at 10.03am.

Mr Ciolac was treated by officers until paramedics arrived but died later in hospital.

Derbyshire Constabulary said his next of kin has been informed.

Deputy Chief Constable Kate Meynell said shortly after the shooting that the incident wasn’t thought to be terror-related but enquiries were ongoing.

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Drone footage of the area where a man with a knife was shot by armed officers.

Police also said on Friday that a window at the station was smashed as armed officers dealt with the situation.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has begun an independent investigation into the shooting and confirmed that a knife had been recovered from the scene.

Exercise Vigilant Knife: British troops take part in cold weather training with Swedish and Finnish armed forces | UK News

British troops have taken part in Exercise Vigilant Knife, an exercise with Swedish and Finnish armed forces.

The Ministry of Defence said the manoeuvres, which offered a strengthening of “inter-operability” as both Sweden and Finland bid to join NATO, took place in Rovaniemi and Rovajarvi in northern Finland.

The exercise was staged against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, which has sharpened minds across Europe about security on the Continent in the face of Russian aggression.

In July, it emerged the RAF had sent four Typhoons and two F-35Bs to Finland and Sweden for joint training exercises.

Finland signed a mutual security assurance declaration with the UK in May, and is also a member of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, a coalition of 10 nations.

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Undated handout photo issued by Ministry of Defence of British troops taking taken part in Exercise Vigilant Knife alongside Swedish and Finnish Armed Forces. The short notice command-post exercise took place in Rovaniemi and Rovajarvi, northern Finland from 29 August to 2 September 2022 and built on the success of Exercise Vigilant Fox which took place in July. Issue date: Sunday September 4, 2022.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Whilst there is war in Europe, it is more important than ever to strengthen our international partnerships.

Undated handout photo issued by Ministry of Defence of British troops taking taken part in Exercise Vigilant Knife alongside Swedish and Finnish Armed Forces. The short notice command-post exercise took place in Rovaniemi and Rovajarvi, northern Finland from 29 August to 2 September 2022 and built on the success of Exercise Vigilant Fox which took place in July. Issue date: Sunday September 4, 2022.

“We welcome Finland and Sweden’s application to join NATO and will continue to exercise together, so we are ready to face shared security challenges.

“Exercise Vigilant Knife is an invaluable opportunity for UK personnel to develop their skills and experience of war fighting in cold weather conditions, enabling them to be effective on the battlefield alongside their Finnish and Swedish counterparts.”

Olivia Pratt-Korbel: Armed police arrest second man on suspicion of murder | UK News

A second man has been arrested by armed police on suspicion of the murder of nine year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel.

The 33-year-old, from Dovecot, was also arrested on suspicion of two counts of attempted murder.

He was detained by armed officers on Lunsford Road on Friday afternoon.

A Merseyside Police spokesperson said: “The investigation in to Olivia’s tragic murder is ongoing and we still need to build up a strong evidential picture so that we can bring those responsible to justice.”

Liverpool football legends lay flowers at scene of killing – live updates

Earlier, detectives released an image of an Audi Q3 that was believed to have taken Joseph Nee, the 35-year-old man who was injured in the shooting, to hospital.

The Audi Q3 which has been seized by police. Pic: Merseyside Police
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The Audi Q3 which has been seized by police. Pic: Merseyside Police

The vehicle has been seized and it is in the process of being forensically examined.

More on Olivia Pratt-korbel

Detective Superintendent Mark Baker said: “I want to make it completely clear that we need any information about this vehicle or the wider investigation as much as ever.

“Whatever information you have, and whether you are sure that it is the same vehicle or not, pass it on and we will assess its importance.”

Aerial footage showing the arrest of a 36-year-old man on suspicion of Olivia’s murder on Thursday night was also released.

That suspect was also arrested on two counts of attempted murder during the armed police operation.

Police released aerial footage of the arrest of a 36-year-old man on suspicion Olivia's murder
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Police released aerial footage of the arrest of a 36-year-old man on suspicion Olivia’s murder

Olivia’s family has paid tribute to her, describing her as a “unique, chatty, nosey little girl who broke the mould when she was born”.

They added: “Although her life was short, her personality certainly wasn’t and she lived it to the most she could, and would blow people away with her wit and kindness.”

The family has urged people to “do the right thing”, and said: “If anyone knows anything, now is the time to speak up. It is not about being a ‘snitch’ or a ‘grass’, it is about finding out who took our baby away from us.”