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Britain details major defense cuts

Oct. 20, 2010 at 10:25 AM   |   Comments

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LONDON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Eager to modernize its armed forces and rein in a massive national deficit, Britain announced it would cut defense spending by 8 percent.

London will reduce troop numbers by 17,000 to 158,500, scrap defense equipment such as airplanes, tanks and artillery and ax 25,000 civilian jobs in the Defense Ministry, British Prime Minister David Cameron said this week.

In its current state, the British military is "overstretched, under-equipped and ill-prepared" to face the challenges of the future, Cameron added.

According to the government's new Strategic Defense and Security Review -- the last one was released before the 9/11 attacks -- the new force would become more mobile to handle asymmetric threats such as terrorism, cyberwarfare and small-scale commando missions.

In his comments before Parliament, Cameron tried to assure its NATO partners and the United States that Britain would remain a "first-rate military power," and that the country's commitment to Afghanistan, where it has 10,000 troops, would remain unchanged.

Cameron admitted, however, that Britain wouldn't be able to shoulder an Iraq-like mission in the near future. London would be able to dispatch a maximum of 30,000 troops to foreign theaters -- it had sent 45,000 to Iraq.

And critics say the new defense review is compromising Britain's naval capabilities.

London plans to scrap the Ark Royal, a carrier able to launch fixed-wing jets, and also its entire fleet of Harrier jump jets.

London has agreed to go ahead building two new aircraft carriers for some $9.5 billion because stopping their already launched construction would be even more expensive.

They're built by a consortium including BAE Systems and Babcock International from Britain and France's Thales

However, once the first of the two new carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, enters service in 2014, there will be no Harrier jump jets to fly off them. (The new carriers can't launch fixed-wing jets).

That means Britain will have carriers without jets until 2020, when the Harrier replacement, the Joint Strike Fighter, is due to be introduced.

The opposition has criticized the move.

"Is it the best strategic decision for the next decade for Britain to have aircraft carriers without aircraft?" opposition leader Ed Miliband asked.

The government decided to delay the replacement of Britain's nuclear deterrent, a submarine-launched missile system called Trident, by four years to 2028.

The $32 billion system remains controversial. Its critics argue it's a remnant of the Cold War, adding that decision to renew it was rushed through Parliament to help BAE Systems, the British company that builds the submarines.

Britain's last defense review was done in 1998, years before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

The new one comes as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was also to unveil the biggest overall government spending cuts since World War II.

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