2016 will be remembered as a momentous year of political change in many countries including our own, not least because of the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.
The Armed Forces are very busy on 28 operations in 25 countries. Over 5,000 are deployed, but that figure does not include those who have recently returned or are preparing to deploy. In addition to our standing tasks of nuclear deterrence, maritime security, air defence and counter terrorism support, we are involved in combat operations against Daesh with the Royal Air Force operating at the highest tempo in 25 years. The Royal Navy remains committed across the globe including very active operations to tackle the migrant crisis and our Army is busy developing the capability and capacity of the Iraqi Forces, sustaining NATO operations in Afghanistan and preparing to deploy to Estonia in support of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.
2016 will also be remembered as a year of commemoration as we paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of millions who shaped our nation’s history on the fields of the Somme, in the seas around Jutland, on board our Arctic convoys, in the deserts of Suez and amidst the blazing heat of the first Gulf War.
2016 was also the year we laid important foundations for our future force. We received the Parliamentary green light to get on and build the next generation of nuclear missile submarines to maintain our nation’s ultimate deterrent. We invested billions to give our people the latest frigates, attack helicopters, armoured vehicles, and cyber technology. We also set out plans to make our defence estate fit for the 21st century, giving our servicemen and women a better base to live, work and train. We continued our work to transform the way we employ and support our Service personnel and their families, in order to become a more modern, inclusive and attractive employer. Our organisation continues to make great strides but each of us recognise that some decisions can often cause uncertainty and disquiet. Whilst the decisions are necessary, we do appreciate the effect they can have on our people, and remain ever grateful for the sacrifices and fortitude that is shown by all elements of the Defence community – regular and reserve Service personnel, civil servants and contractors.
Next year promises to be busier than ever. Our troops will lead NATO’s Enhanced Forward presence in Estonia and double our UN peace keeping efforts as they bring urgent medical support to South Sudan. Our air force will police Black Sea skies and up their efforts in the campaign to defeat Daesh. Above all, our sailors will begin testing our mighty Queen Elizabeth carrier, opening a new chapter for the Royal Navy, for Defence and for Britain.
So we’ve plenty to look forward to. But, for now, we would like to wish all of you, whether at home or on operations during the festive period, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. Thank you for all you’ve achieved during 2016. We look forward to seeing you back here ready to do it all again in 2017.