Published On: Sun, May 12th, 2024
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WW3 fears as UK refreshes Cold War defence plans as Putin ramps up threat | UK | News

World War Three fears have spiked after a series of Cold War exercises which would have been activated in the case of an attack by the Soviet Union are being “refreshed” in light of growing tensions with Russia.

While Britain and its Nato allies are nowhere near to yet being on an actual war footing, sources last night referred to an “infelicitous trajectory” following Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s so-called Victory Day speech last week.

WINTEX-CIMEX (Winter Exercise and Civil-Military Exercise) and HILEX (High-Level Exercise) were regularly trialled during the 1980s, but fell out of practice following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

While Nato adopted top-level crisis management exercises – intended to ensure that Nato HQ would communicate with member capitals – the alliance became increasingly focused on “mission specific” operations which, until just a few years ago, discounted the realistic possibility of war with Russia.

WINTEX/ HILEX was a response by the West to a conventional weapon attack on a European country which later escalated to a nuclear scenario.

The Government has made a raft of improvements to national resilience since 2022, beginning with the creation of the Cabinet Office Resilience Directorate and including a new national emergency alerts system.

Now military chiefs and senior civil servants have begun to analyse how much of the original plan could be incorporated into a revised plan – called “The Book” – to deal with a Russian incursion into Poland.

Though specific details are classified, UK-specific elements will focus on national resilience and stronger military and civil cooperation.

This will build upon UK Resilience Forum meetings, which bring together representatives of national, regional and local government representatives to meet with private and voluntary sector officials to improve communication and collaboration on risk, emergency preparedness, crisis response and recovery.

New elements include increasing the number of Chinook helicopters, permanently on standby at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, used to vacate important dignitaries – including members of the Royal family – from London and the Home Counties to safe houses across the country.

Special attempts are being made to ensure all relevant government departments cooperate following complaints from former Armed Forces minister James Heappey last month that ministries were ignoring exercises.

His criticism concerned a specially-convened “whole of government” exercise, originally proposed by former defence secretary Ben Wallace, to practice evacuating to a bunker in the event of war.

The £126m underground Pindar Defence Crisis Management Centre is located five stories underground, below the Ministry of Defence Main Building in Whitehall.

It can house to 400 personnel and provides protection against conventional bombing, biological and chemical attack, flooding, EMP attack, and the effects of a nuclear bombs’ blast, radiation and EMP, but it is not designed to withstand a direct hit from a nuclear weapon,

The exercise was intended “to get people down to the bunker so they could see what their working environment in war would be”, Mr Heappey revealed, but “in the end, rather depressingly, it was just defence ministers, senior military officers and MoD officials that participated.”

Delivering his annual victory speech last week Vladimir Putin declared that Russia would “not allow anyone to threaten us,” adding that its strategic forces are “always in a state of combat readiness” against so-called Nazi aggression.

His comments were viewed as an attempt by the Russian leader to rewrite history in order to justify further extensions of Russia‘s borders.

One senior Whitehall source said: “We are not, despite what the defence secretary says, yet on a war footing in any meaningful sense of the term, but certainly there is a continual and growing realisation that Russia has adopted an infelicitous trajectory for which we must be prepared.”

Speaking last night Gen Sir Richard Barrons, former head of Joint Forces Command, said: “it is a very good idea that these Cold War exercises are properly resurrected, even though their simulated elements may give a misleading impression as to how seamlessly things can be achieved.

“But it is absolutely no good if other government departments don’t take part.”

Justin Crump, of Sibylline strategic risk group, said the task of protecting national resilience in the face of conflict had often been ignored over the past four decades.

“Domestically, the military had a lot more responsibility in the 1980s. Then we moved to police firearms units and, over time, our blue light services were optimised to deal with a single major terrorist incident in London.

“Even today, the police are unlikely to be able to cope with simultaneous incidents across the UK. So there’s a lot of work going on as to how blue light services and the military can restore resilience.”

He added: “For 35 years Nato has ignored the real possibility of war with Russia in favour of mission specific operations.

“We had a framework, we had a concept of how to deploy troops, but we did not plan for war. When we sent our battlegroup to Estonia, we based it in the wrong part of the country.

“Now the time for political posturing is over.”

A Government spokesman said: “We regularly review and refresh all our plans to counter threats to the UK.”

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