To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what steps his Department is taking to improve (a) access to phone calls, (b) access to high speed internet and (c) the welfare of armed services personnel deployed abroad on exercise or operations.
Defence spends in excess of £9 million per year to provide digital welfare services to deployed personnel. To maximise value for money and to get the best possible service for personnel deployed overseas on Operations and Exercises, Defence always seeks to use local telecoms infrastructure (4G, WiFi or Broadband Internet) wherever possible. As a minimum this enables regular daily voice calls and, in most cases, provides access to video communication and on-line entertainment streaming services, but this is dependent on both the infrastructure and security considerations.
When there is no local or only poor-quality fixed infrastructure available (e.g. on deployed Maritime operations), welfare services such as video communications and entertainment services are provided using the Skynet 5 satellites. In recent months, recognising the impact caused by the COVID crisis and the strain on Service personnel, Defence Digital and Airbus Defence and Space has increased capacity for the maritime welfare services.
Future welfare services for deployed personnel will be provided as part of the follow-on Skynet 6 programme, which is expected to be delivered in the mid-2020s timeframe. The aim is to provide service personnel with unlimited access to high-speed internet anywhere in the world and at any time. As this work forms part of an underway competitive tendering process the expected costs cannot be provided at this time.