Penny Mordaunt calls for a British Iron Dome defence system

Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt emphasises how Israel, 'a nation a fraction of our size, has staved off an attack from a nation 10 times its size' - JULIAN SIMMONDS

Penny Mordaunt has broken ranks to call for an Israeli-style “Iron Dome” missile defence system for Britain.

In a highly unusual intervention, the Leader of the House of Commons has publicly urged Rishi Sunak to increase spending on defence, calling it a “duty to our citizens”.

It comes as former defence secretaries, the former chief of the general staff, a former First Sea Lord and a former Air Marshall all call on the Prime Minister to bolster the UK’s air defences, warning that Britain would not be able to protect its citizens from a drone and missile attack of the type launched by Iran against Israel.

The Sunday Telegraph can also reveal that Number 10 and the Treasury previously rebuffed a request from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for funds to build a British “Iron Dome”.

Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel last week but almost all of them were intercepted largely due to Israel’s formidable air defences, which include the short-range “Iron Dome” system.

In a move that will be interpreted by some in the Tory party as a leadership bid, Ms Mordaunt, a former defence secretary, strayed from her brief to urge the Prime Minister to boost military spending.

She told The Sunday Telegraph: “To those that say about our defence ambitions ‘we can’t do, shouldn’t do or can’t afford to do’, I say ‘look to Israel’ – a nation a fraction of our size, that has staved off an attack from a nation 10 times its size.

“It has made a choice. It has made it work. We may not have its daily reminders of the threats we face, but we have the same duty to our citizens.

“Israel’s defence is our defence, and we must be ready to defend our allies the same way that we would defend ourselves, as we did last weekend.”

Writing on the issue of defence for this newspaper, Ms Mordaunt also claimed that Labour cannot be trusted with the nation’s defence and the Conservatives “must demonstrate that we can be”.

Ms Mordaunt failed to mention Grant Shapps, the current Defence Secretary, but heaped praise on his predecessor Liam Fox for his “heroic efforts” to “retain and regenerate” the UK’s capabilities.

It is her second intervention on defence spending, which is likely to be a key battleground for a future Tory leadership campaign.

Earlier this year, Ms Mordaunt announced that she had met with the Chancellor to remind him that the Government’s “first duty” is to protect Britain, amid a backlash over the lack of extra funding for the MoD in the Budget.

Last night her calls were echoed by three former defence chiefs. Greg Bagwell, a former UK air defence commander, said that Britain’s defences have been “shrink-wrapped” around “very specific, limited and bounded tasks”.

He said we now have a force that can professionally “police” an Olympics or deal with “a 9/11 scenario and even the odd Russian itinerant aircraft” but “not a concerted, conventional attack”.

Admiral Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, said: “The bottom line is that if we had 300 missiles fired at us, we wouldn’t be able to repel them in the way that Israel did, albeit with help from the US, the Jordanians and so on. We have nothing like the Iron Dome and I think there is a need for us to ensure we have that.”

Lord Dannatt, who was Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009 added: “The only real air defence systems we have are the sort of air defence systems we would use to protect forces on operations overseas.

“We don’t have a comprehensive air defence system in the same way that we did in World War Two, in the same way that we did in the Cold War – that has largely been dismantled. On that sort of basis we are not terribly well prepared. The wider argument is that we should be investing more deeply in our defence budget overall.”

Commitment for integrated defence system

In the run up to last July’s Defence Command Paper, The Sunday Telegraph understands that the MoD requested a commitment be made for about £10 billion for an integrated air and missile defence system (IAMDS).

However, No 10 and the Treasury are said to have baulked at the cost, insisting any plans would have to wait for an Integrated Review after the next election.

To signal future intent, a reference was inserted into the Defence Command Paper that the UK would “step up our efforts to deliver an integrated air and missile defence approach”.

On Saturday, a government official insisted that they did not recognise the claim that a request for money had been refused.

Ben Wallace and Sir Gavin Williamson, former defence secretaries, have told The Telegraph that Britain needs to invest more in its defences. Mr Wallace said that some extra funding “needs to go on defence from the air, whether that is counter-drone or counter-missile”.

“That is where you see the growth of the enemy capabilities – even simple enemies, like the Houthis are assembling missiles and firing them from dried out waddies in the desert and they are going hundreds of miles,” he warned.

Sir Gavin said that the post-war “peace dividend” that governments have relied on “has come to the end” and we cannot rely only on a nuclear deterrent.

James Heappey, a former Armed Forces minister, said a British Iron Dome was “inescapably necessary” and work needed to start urgently on one because it would take five to 10 years to deliver. “With the threat rising daily, we can’t delay any longer,” he said.

MoD asked No 10 to fund upgrades

The UK is currently protected by a combination of Sky Sabre (a medium-range, ground-based air defence system ), Type-45 destroyers and Typhoon jets.

However, one Sky Sabre has been deployed to the Falkland Islands and another to Poland, while Type-45 destroyers are being rotated in and out of the southern Red Sea to deter the Houthis. Quick-reaction Typhoon squadrons have meanwhile been committed to Cyprus and to take part in Nato air policing in Romania.

This has led to concerns about whether the assets could be brought back in time if intelligence suggested Britain faced imminent attack.

Last month, Lieutenant General Sir Rob Magowan, the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, confirmed to MPs that the MoD had asked Number 10 for money to upgrade air defences. He told the Defence Select Committee: “We have been clear that we need to spend more money—above the programme of record—on what we call integrated air and missile defence.”

Mark Francois, a former Armed Forces minister, said: “Russia’s tactics in Ukraine, of launching mass cruise missile strikes from long-range bombers, shows what we could realistically expect in wartime, from attacks coming in over the Northern Atlantic.

“We urgently need to develop a comprehensive defence against both ballistic and cruise missile attacks – an ‘Albion Dome’ if you like – and the Chancellor must ‘courageously’ find the money for it, or leave us operationally deeply vulnerable without it.”

A government spokesman said: “National security is the first duty of government, which is why we have the defensive capabilities and international alliances in place to protect the UK from both current and future threats.

“However, we have been clear that we need to spend more on defence in a more dangerous and contested world.

“That is why this Government has overseen the largest sustained defence spending increase since the end of the Cold War – with a £24 billion uplift in cash terms since 2020, and an additional £11 billion at last year’s Spring Budget.”

The US House of Representatives on Saturday approved a long-delayed $61 billion (£49bn) aid package to Ukraine along with a $26 billion package aiding Israel and providing humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza.

The Ukraine aid comes at a critical time, with Moscow’s troops successfully exploiting Kyiv’s lack of arms and munitions to make gains on the battlefield.