I visited Estonia last week as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS), a year-long programme that aims to give MPs a greater insight into the diverse and challenging work of Britain’s armed forces.
In the Estonian capital Tallinn we visited the Cyber Centre as well as meeting the British Ambassador, senior Estonian defence staff, NATO personnel and MPs, before going on to Tapa where the British forces are based as part of the NATO operation there.
This trip was particularly interesting because the Royal Welsh are serving out there at the moment so we met many soldiers and officers from Wales, and we also had the opportunity to discuss the rationale behind the NATO presence there. We have to face up to the reality of Cyber attacks, such as those experienced by Estonia in 2007, and make sure that we keep up with the technologies needed to defend ourselves from attack.
Over the last few months, the AFPS has taken me and 30 other MPs to army bases in Shrivenham, Pirbright, Catterick, Westbury and Harrogate, where we have observed and participated in many facets of the work of the armed forces. The focus so far has been on recruitment and training of army officers and infantrymen and women, as well as soldiers serving in specialist units.
We have witnessed a demonstration of the full spectrum of the UK’s land-based military capability. This included a complex assault by the Royal Welsh Battle Group onto a purpose-built town on Salisbury Plain, involving armoured vehicles and demonstrating the challenges of modern urban warfare.
It has been a privilege to observe and learn about the varied work of our armed forces. These last few months I have witnessed first-hand the dedication and determination with which they serve, often in very challenging of circumstances.
It is important that those who make the laws, approve the defence budget and, ultimately, send our brave servicemen and women into conflict have a good understanding of our armed forces, as well as the throats we face.
The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme is a very useful way to enhance our knowledge, and I am grateful to all those who have given up their time to talk to us. I’m looking forward to experiencing many more aspects of the work of our armed forces in the coming months.