Prime Minister David Cameron said the U.K. will delay renewing the Trident submarine-based nuclear-missile system until after the next election as he announced an 8 percent cut in defense spending over four years.
“The decision to start construction of the new submarines need not now be taken until 2016,” Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons today, outlining the results of the first defense review since 1998. “We can extend the life of the Vanguard-class submarines so the first replacement submarine isn’t needed until 2028.”
Cameron said Britain’s armed forces will be reduced by 17,000 personnel, while 25,000 civilian staff will be axed in the defense ministry. He also announced the scrapping of an order for BAE Systems Plc’s Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft and said fewer, cheaper planes are needed for new aircraft carriers.
The defense review is intended both to help narrow the record budget deficit and redefine military needs. The U.S. expressed concern last week about the effect of the cuts, though Cameron said today the U.K. will still meet the NATO target for defense spending of 2 percent of gross domestic product. The government will announce expenditure cuts averaging 25 percent for other departments tomorrow.
‘Protect Our Security’
“This is not simply a cost-saving exercise to get to grips with the biggest budget deficit in postwar history, it is about taking the right decisions to protect our national security in the years ahead,” Cameron told lawmakers. “Our national security depends on our economic strength and vice versa.”
The number of nuclear warheads per submarine at sea will be cut to 40 from 48 and the total stockpile will be reduced to “fewer than 120” from “less than 160,” Cameron said, still allowing the U.K. to have continuous at-sea deterrence.
The decision to delay Trident will save around 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) and defer 2 billion pounds of spending over the next ten years.
The prime minister said the government will cancel the purchase of nine BAE Nimrod MRA4 planes, citing it as an example of poor procurement policy.
“It has cost the taxpayer over 3 billion pounds, the number of aircraft procured has fallen from 21 to 9, the cost per aircraft has increased by over 200 percent and it’s over eight years late,” Cameron told lawmakers.
The withdrawal of Nimrod, alongside other planes, will mean RAF Kinloss, a base in Scotland, will no longer be needed, while two other bases may be used in future by the army. The government will reduce the number of Challenger II tanks by 40 percent and heavy artillery by 35 percent.
The total number of navy-operated frigates and destroyers will be cut to 19 from 23, though the government will complete the purchase of six Type 45 destroyers from London-based BAE. The navy will also get new Astute-class submarines built by the same company.
Cameron said the U.K. will press ahead with the construction of two aircraft carriers, though the launch of the first will be deferred to 2020 from 2016 to allow for the fitting of so-called catapult and arrester gear. This will allow the use of carrier-variant Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes, which will be cheaper than the short- takeoff and vertical-landing version previously proposed.
The government left open the possibility that one of the carriers may be sold after completion. Only one will be at sea for the foreseeable future.
One of the carriers will be designed to operate with 12 F- 35s. It will also carry eight Apache helicopters built by Boeing Co., as well as either 12 Merlin helicopters, made by Finmeccanica SpA’s AgustaWestland unit, or 12 Boeing-made Chinooks. The U.K. will buy an additional 12 Chinooks.
The review document said either HMS Ocean, the navy’s helicopter carrier, or HMS Illustrious, an aircraft carrier, will be scrapped after a “brief study” to determine which will be the best helicopter base before the F-35s come into service. Another carrier, HMS Ark Royal will be decommissioned now, along with the Harrier jump jets the F-35s will replace. That will leave Britain with only helicopters on carriers for a decade.
The new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, are being built by a group including BAE, Babcock International Group Plc and Thales SA at a cost of 4.9 billion pounds.
“The U.K. put itself in the second division with this carrier decision,” said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BCG Partners in London. Carriers act as a deterrent as well as merely a means of carrying warplanes, he said.
The army will be reduced to 95,500 personnel by 2015, a cut of 7,000. Britain will withdraw half its personnel from bases in Germany by 2015 and the remainder by 2020, Cameron said. The Royal Air Force will lose 5,000 personnel, as will the navy. That will leave the air force with a strength of 33,000 and the navy with 30,000 by 2015.
Unions and the opposition Labour Party attacked the government’s plans.
“If 25,000 job losses in the Ministry of Defence is what is happening in a so-called protected department, the remaining cuts to be announced in the spending review will be truly devastating,” Public and Commercial Services Union General Secretary Mark Serwotka said in an e-mailed statement. “We have serious concerns for the damaging effect these cuts will have.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband, responding to Cameron in Parliament, said the review was a “profound missed opportunity.”
“It’s a spending review dressed up as a defense review,” Miliband said. “This review has been driven only by short-term considerations.”
BAE said in an e-mailed statement it will study the review and will make a further announcement on Oct. 21.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at email@example.com.