Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight

Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

This is where the global struggle for peace and security gets incisive, informed, coverage

Lobbyists 'delaying Apache contract'

  • 6 March 2015
  • From the section Economy
A UK Apache attack helicopter taking part in a training exercise on Salisbury Plain

A £1bn British Army contract to replace its Apache attack helicopters is being held up due to lobbying by the firm Augusta Westland, Whitehall insiders have said.

The delays risk adding significantly to the cost of running the existing Apache fleet, and of acquiring new aircraft direct from Boeing in the US at a cheaper price.

The dilemma of giving work to a British firm or buying a much cheaper option is much like the one that occurred back in 1995 when the current generation of attack helicopters was bought. Then the government opted for a contract with Westland that involved fitting the basic American helicopter with new engines, defensive aids and communications taking its price from around £20m each to £44m per aircraft.

Lt Gen Gary Coward, head of the Joint Helicopter Command from 2005 to 2008, told Newsnight that the earlier Westland deal "cost an awful lot of time and an awful lot of money".

Newsnight understands that Boeing's current offer to the British government is, once again, around £20m per helicopter, which presents the MoD with an opportunity almost unique in defence procurement history, to buy a new weapon for a fraction of the price of the one it is replacing.

Read full article Lobbyists 'delaying Apache contract'

On board with the US air crews fighting Islamic State

  • 15 January 2015
  • From the section UK

How is progress measured on board the US aircraft carrier which is playing a key role in the fight against Islamic State?

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, plying the waters of the Gulf, represents a big slice of the coalition effort being used to pound the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and Iraq - an onslaught that has been going on for the best part of five months now.

Read full article On board with the US air crews fighting Islamic State

CIA interrogation report: Just what did the UK know?

  • 18 December 2014
  • From the section UK
Mock-up of prisoner in handcuffs

In March 2004, a Boeing 737, registration number N313P, lifted off from Baghdad International Airport with two prisoners on board - captured by the SAS after a shoot-out in the city.

They were on their way to Bagram prison, in Afghanistan.

Read full article CIA interrogation report: Just what did the UK know?

'Morale poor' among UK crews at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

  • 5 December 2014
  • From the section UK
Tornado GR4 at RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus
Tornados have been on missions against IS since early autumn

Raids against Islamic State are being conducted from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus "with broken jets and tired and fed-up people", BBC Newsnight has been told.

In a letter, a serviceman said the base was being neglected, morale was poor and ground crews had taken to eating humanitarian rations meant for Iraqis.

Read full article 'Morale poor' among UK crews at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

HMS Queen Elizabeth: The sensitive aircraft carrier issue

  • 27 November 2014
  • From the section UK
HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth was formally named earlier this year

It's quite likely that the first squadron of fighters to operate from the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier will belong to the US Marines rather than Britain, naval insiders have told me.

Asked about such a scenario on Newsnight, General Lord David Richards, until earlier this year the UK's top serviceman, said it "would make good sense".

Read full article HMS Queen Elizabeth: The sensitive aircraft carrier issue

Syria's war: Stats, graphs and maps

Some estimates suggest about 110,000 people have been killed in Syria's war since 2011. The UN puts the figure closer to 200,000.

About 10 millions Syrians are thought to have been displaced, many of them fleeing into neighbouring countries.

Read full article Syria's war: Stats, graphs and maps

New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

  • 30 October 2014
  • From the section World

How do you keep Western countries focused on their security and the need to spend more on it at a time of austerity?

That is Jens Stoltenberg's "main responsibility", he says, having taken over as the secretary general of Nato at the start of October.

Read full article New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Smoke rises after an airstrike on Kobane
Kobane has been hit by dozens of airstrikes

After a month of fighting, defenders of Kobane say Islamic State (IS) has been virtually driven out of the Syrian town. So what has been learned from this battle?

1. Kobane is not "strategically" important.

Read full article Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Islamic State: The difficulties facing coalition air strikes

Islamic State (IS) fighters renewed their advance in the Syrian border town of Kobane on Wednesday, with the US warning that air strikes alone cannot save it.

The air campaign by the US-led coalition is arguably inefficient, with planes based far away from their targets.

Read full article Islamic State: The difficulties facing coalition air strikes

Islamic State: What does Egypt bring to international coalition?

The United Nations General Assembly provided a chance for scores of key meetings between world leaders on its sidelines.

Interestingly, of all those held by US President Barack Obama, the longest was reckoned to be with Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Read full article Islamic State: What does Egypt bring to international coalition?

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About Mark

Mark has covered diplomatic and defence matters for more than 20 years at the BBC.

His major stories have included: the 1990 invasion of Iraq and subsequent Desert Storm campaign; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Oslo peace process in the Middle East; the wars that broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s as well as the diplomacy that stopped them; the Second Palestinian Intifada; 9/11 and its aftermath; the Coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring.

Before joining the BBC as a reporter he was Defence correspondent for The Independent newspaper for four years, covering the end of the Cold War and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He is also the author of several books on military matters, both current and historical. Mark read International Relations at the London School of Economics and served for a short time in the British Army.

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