There has been quite a bit of coverage of defence issues in the media recently, ranging from the US/UK/France missile strikes on Syria via the Israeli-Iranian exchange of fire over the Golan Heights to the appearance of new and innovative military equipment at Russia’s annual May Day parade in Moscow.

All of these events, and many others, have spawned misinformation and disinformation in their wakes; did some of the missiles fail to fire from the French frigates in the Syria strikes? Did the Israelis hit all their intended targets as claimed, or did the Syrians shoot them all down as they have counter-claimed? And has Russia actually been using its newly displayed equipment on operations like it says, thus enabling the “combat proven” label so critical for export sales? It’s often said that in war the first casualty is truth, and that seems to be particularly apposite today.

Closer to home, however, the defence debate rotates around HM Treasury’s constraints on defence spending and whether the Ministry of Defence will ever be able to afford the equipment is has, or wants to, order for all three armed services. I suspect the current arguments here are more to do with Government and MoD confusion and incompetence than with any deliberate attempts to mislead, but I dare say we’ll all find out in the fullness of time.

Two startling examples of deliberate disinformation, though, can be found in matters relating to the Royal Navy. Leaving aside dubious claims from official sources that the RN is “growing”, which it manifestly obviously is not, the sagas of the UK’s newest aircraft carriers and the future procurement of three new Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels merits some illustration and comment.

Taking the aircraft carriers, and more specifically HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of the two, the populist criticism by those who seek to denigrate the RN and/or the Westminster government is that Britain has built at great cost a brand new aircraft carrier but “it has no aircraft to operate from it”.

This is patently and obviously a falsehood, as anybody with two minutes of spare time could easily discover. Firstly, within days of HMS Queen Elizabeth starting her sea trials in July 2017, aircraft in the form of Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron from Culdrose, had touched down on her flight deck.  Since then she has hosted numerous helicopter takeoffs and landings, and was famously photographed entering Portsmouth harbour with both Merlin and Chinook aircraft on deck.

In addition, the UK has taken delivery of at least 15 of the 48 F-35B Lightning II fifth generation jet aircraft it has on order. These aircraft are currently based at Beaufort, South Carolina in the USA together with some 200 UK military personnel as the new aircraft is assimilated into UK service. Trials with this aircraft and HMS Queen Elizabeth are expected to start later this year prior to the carrier becoming operational after integration is complete. So it is quite clearly nonsense to state that the UK has an aircraft carrier but no aircraft to operate from it, and those doing so should – and in many cases I suspect do – know better.

Another example of deliberate information debasing UK military debate is the increasingly vexed issue of the procurement of three future RFA vessels, the Fleet Solid Support ships which will support RN warships in future operations. In line with the UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, these ships will be subject to an international tendering process, unlike RN warships proper which have always been built in UK yards (except in cases of national emergency like the Second World War, for example, when 50 destroyers were procured from the US for the RN under the lend-lease agreement).

This potential for them being built abroad has become a bit of a cause celebre in shipbuilding circles, with politicians of all hues and unions alike urging that they should be treated like warships and built in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn, no less, added his voice to the clamour when he travelled to Glasgow to give a speech on 11th May, stating publicly for the first time that all naval vessels should be built in the UK. He didn’t say Scotland specifically but the political message was quite clear.

The SNP has been much more direct, with Nicola Sturgeon declaring that the international tendering process was “a blatant betrayal of Scottish shipyards” and a reneging of promises made to the Clyde shipyards at the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Other SNP politicians have been quick to jump on the bandwagon, including Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for Transport and representing a Glasgow constituency.

The problem with the “Clyde betrayal” theme is that it is just not based on the evidence. As outlined in the Glasgow-based UK Defence Journal, three main facts undermine the Nationalist argument. First, the Clyde is already at capacity building the Offshore Patrol Boats and Type 26 frigates that will keep it busy until at least 2030. There is no intention by the Clyde yards to bid for the work in any case. Second, the FSS ships, at a projected size of 40,000 tonnes each, just wouldn’t fit into the existing Clyde facilities. And third, the only “promise” that might possibly have been made relates to complex warships only, of which the Clyde currently has it fill.

So, where is all this nonsense about the aircraft carrier with no aircraft and the Clyde betrayal coming from, you may wonder. I don’t have a precise answer, I’m afraid, but both instances bear the hallmarks of deliberate campaigns of disinformation, often précised by the phrase “deny, distract, and blame”.  Various forms of disinformation are practised by intelligence agencies around the globe, including our very own in the UK.

The Russians, however, are the masters of it, with their doctrine of maskirovka deeply embedded in their political, military, and diplomatic operations. But are the Russians pulling the strings here? I don’t know, but others will.

This article was written by Stuart Crawforda regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. During his military career he attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, media, and defence and security consultant in Edinburgh and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in the print and broadcast media.

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Stuart Crawford
Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, defence and security consultant and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in print, broadcast and online media.
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Chris (@guest_416051)
2 years ago

A great piece of writing thus but alas I fear somewhat wasted on people like us who know better than QE not having aircraft etc.

So spread the article wide my friends and if just one person realises the error of their ways then we shall have had victory.

On an unrelated note could UKDJ possibly add a edit function to their comment section?

andyreeves (@guest_416067)
2 years ago

disinformation is what the M.O.D excels at no information, just rumour and heresay i.e the type 31

SoleSurvivor (@guest_416073)
2 years ago

I’m suprised you don’t know the answer I can give you both reasons The first (carrier with no aircraft) is quite simply media hysteria to a not so perfect situation, when people say we have no aircraft to fly from the carriers, they don’t actually mean zero aircraft, in the same way a football pundit might say “England has no strikers” they don’t mean zero strikers they mean they don’t have a striker that’s scoring. And it isn’t a criticism that’s plucked from thin air, the cold hard facts are Queen Elizabeth is in service from 2020, her first deployment… Read more »

Joe B
Joe B (@guest_416094)
2 years ago

You are only part right when you claim that the Russians are behind the campaign of disinformation. There is a very subversive element in the west of Marxist, Neo-marxist and post modernist who are all broadly aligned in their thinking around issues such as the destruction of the west and its civilisations, norms, customs, morals, rights and governments. They are all to blame

farouk (@guest_416104)
2 years ago

Disinformation is a weapon we should be aware of

I went down to the Falklands in 1982, I went down again in 1983. The Government stated that any troops who went down twice within a 2 year period would receive a cash bonus for doing so. So when I applied for mine, I was told I went down twice before the damn thing started.

That’s disinformation.

Gunbuster (@guest_416133)
2 years ago
Reply to  farouk

Nah…that’s being seen off. Happens all the time. Usually because someones ( Logistics Writers / AG Corp) interpretation of the rules is different to the person who wrote them.

Andy G
Andy G (@guest_416144)
2 years ago

I’m perplexed by the UKDJ’s sense of injustice and outrage on this while actively reporting on rumour and heresay.

Andy G
Andy G (@guest_416145)
2 years ago
Reply to  Andy G

Its a problem though, dont we have laws about fake news like this?

Lee H
Lee H (@guest_416152)
2 years ago
Reply to  Andy G

Morning It’s not fake news, it is an interpretation of the facts. This happens all the time, politicians manage to articulate the story to fit their narrative. As SoleSurvivor says, this is the game (vote winning) and the opposition parties always have the advantage – even more so now with their better use of the cyber arena to get their message across. The party in power are 18 months to 2 years behind when it comes to utilising the cyber arena to get their message across, you only have to see their email campaign during the local elections to see… Read more »

Lee1 (@guest_416247)
2 years ago
Reply to  Lee H

I am a little confused. You start off by saying it is not fake news then end saying it is fake news…

We are correct to moan about it when it is our elected MPs or main political parites that are using this against us.

A W Malcolm
A W Malcolm (@guest_427567)
2 years ago

The reason the Clyde yards are at full capacity is because the UK Government pulled the plug on the frigate factory at Scotstoun.